VOLUME 1 [Pages 1 - 465]






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This Gospel was probably written at Ephesus, between the years A.D. 70 and 80.  It was the last of the four Gospels, and was composed before the Epistles of John, probably.



The Gospel of Matthew was, while Jerusalem was standing, especially designed for the Jews, and written in order to prove that Jesus is the Messiah promised in the Old Testament.  But John’s Gospel was designed, as is apparent upon analysis of it, to counteract the false speculations of Gentiles, concerning the person of Christ, and the Godhead.



The danger to the Church of Christ, which arose from Judaism, and was threatening in Paul’s day, was now past.  But a new peril had arisen out of the philosophic theorizing of certain un-renewed men concerning Jesus.  They called themselves Gnostics, or ‘Men of Intelligence,’ and put forth their vain theories on subjects beyond the compass of man’s understanding.



Who was this Christ, of whom they heard so much?  And how did he stand related to the Godhead?’  Here they branched off into various conclusions.  For the truth concerning our Lord came into collision with their most cherished opinions.  What, then, was to be done?  They refused to receive in their integrity the truths concerning Jesus; because these overthrew their principles of error.  To them generally – ‘Matter was the cause of sin.’  And the confusion and evil visible around them were due, as they supposed, not to the fall of the creature, after having been [Page 2] created in perfection; but to the want of knowledge or of power in the Creator. Hence, many denied that Jesus was really a man born of woman.  His body was an illusion. These, we may call the Phantomists.  Many refused the God of the Old Testament, who appears in Scripture both as the Creator and the God of Israel.  Hence they were brought into collision with the many prophecies taken from the Old Testament, which are alleged to be fulfilled in the person and life of Christ.  Many in that day asserted that ‘the Father,’ of whom Jesus testified, was not the Creator and the God of Israel; but a Being of imperfect intelligence and goodness, alien from Jehovah.  Jesus was sent by ‘the Father’ to deliver men from the Creator’s bondage, and from the laws of the God of the Jews.  The errorist whose views are especially confuted by John was Cerinthus.



There was a party, also, of Jewish Christians, who, even after the destruction of Jerusalem, observed the Law. These sought to make of Jesus a lawgiver not superior in person to Moses.  They wore called EBIONITES; and by the natural consequence of their views, they were led to deny the Godhead of Jesus.  For if Jesus were the Eternal Son of God, Moses could not be His equal; and the Law is set aside.  Determined to observe the Law, they consequently denied the Deity of Jesus.  John, therefore, gives at length many of the statements of our Lord, which assert His Godhead, and His equality with the Father.



There were those, again, who regarded John the Baptist as the Great Light sent of God; and although he did no miracle, they clung to him in preference to the Saviour.  John’s Gospel refutes these, by giving the. Baptist’s own Statements of his inferiority to Jesus.  Some traces of this sect, and of its book, are extant to this very day. It is in entire harmony with this view, that Paul, as soon as he comes to Ephesus, finds disciples, who had got no farther than the baptism of John, and were not possessed of the supernatural gifts of the Holy Ghost.  These Paul requires to be baptised again, as a witness that they owned the superiority of Jesus to John Baptist.



The Holy Ghost, in short, led John the Apostle, who was in full possession of the mind of God about the Saviour, to state [Page 3] those facts and words of Christ which are sufficient to refute the above and other errors, and to establish the counter-truths.



The main designs of John are sketched in the first eighteen verses of the Gospel, which form a sort of preface. This preface contains a view of what the Evangelist afterwards establishes in the body of the Gospel, by the words and deeds of Jesus.



We may consider the Preface as divided into seven parts.



1. THE WORD - or Son of God  - 


His relation to God. 1.  2.


His relationship to creation, 3.


He was Creator of men.  He was their Life and Light. Refused by them, nevertheless. 4, 5.



2. JOHN THE BAPTIST. What was his standing in reference to Christ?  This is carefully given, both positively and negatively.  Why John Baptist should thus early appear cannot be easily accounted for, save on the supposition that the Baptist was by some, supposed to be ‘the Light of men.’  This error must lead to the ruin of souls, as thereby they shut out from themselves and others the true Light, which is Christ, verses 6-8.



3.  A further statement concerning JESUS as the TRUE LIGHT.  He was foretold by the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament as about to come into the world, 9.  He who at length appeared in the world was the Creator, but was not recognised as such.  He presented Himself as foretold, to Israel, but they would not accept Him.  Here then John exhibits Christ as the Son of the God of Israel, 10, 11.



4. There was, however, a class of exceptions.  There were those who believed in Jesus, confessing Him to be what He really was.  To these He granted the high dignity of becoming THE SONS OF GOD.  They were made so by, and in Himself, the original and eternal Son of God.  These Sons of God were (and are) found, not among the Jews alone, but among Gentiles also.  For this dignity was not derived from the flesh of Abraham, or from any natural source; but from the regenerating energy of God, verses 12, 13.  Answerably, in our Lord’s discourses here [Page 4] reported, the Father’s electing love, and the certainty of the eternal life of God’s children is asserted.



5. Then is stated the fact of Jesus’ INCARNATION, verse 14.  The men above-named are made Sons of God; the Son of God was made man.  The dwelling of the Godhead in the manhood of Christ, made of His body a better ‘tabernacle’ than that which was exhibited under Moses.  And the moral and spiritual glory of Christ was greater than the material glory which, in the wilderness of Arabia, illuminated the Tent of God.



This Gospel was, as Irenaeusus says, especially designed to counteract the deadly errors of one named Cerinthus, who lived at Ephesus in the time of John.  His false doctrine denied the unity of the person of Jesus Christ.  Jesus was the mere man, born as others.  But on Him, at His baptism, came a supernatural Emanation (or Eon) called ‘Christ.’  Thenceforward, Jesus became inspired, and wrought wonders up to the time of His arrest.  But then the Christ fled away and left Jesus, the mere man, to His foes.’  Against this deceit of the devil John testifies, ‘These things are written, that ye may believe that, Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, ye might have life in His name,’ 20: 31.  Now this great proposition had two classes of foes:-



1. Unbelieving Jews, against whom our Lord is seen contending and testifying, that He is the Son of God, sent by the Father.  These believed that the Christ should be a man; but they denied that Jesus was that man.



2. Gentile errorists also denied that ‘Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God’ They distinguished Jesus Christ, as we have seen, into two persons.  The Christ might be the Son of God; but the according to them, was not.  From such unbelievers eternal life was cut off.



6. JOHN BAPTIST’S TESTIMONY to the Saviour’s superiority over himself, follows. (15)



7. Then is noticed the relation of Jesus to Moses, verse 17.  Moses brought law, Christ brings grace.  Moses, to some extent, revealed God.  But the full truth concerning Him could only [Page 5] be brought by Jesus Christ, who was from all eternity the Son of the Father.



This view is the only one which satisfactorily accounts for the sudden introduction, without explanation, of the new terms, ‘Word,’ ‘Life,’ ‘Light,’ ‘Only-begotten.’  Philosophers, specially Valentinus, had spoken of these things as distinct Persons, emanations from the Godhead.  John, by the Holy Spirit, proves that Jesus Christ was Himself possessed of all the glories which vain speculation had distributed among various supernatural beings, whom they called by these titles.



Our Gospel treats scarcely at all of that which forms almost the substance of the three previous (‘or Synoptic’) Gospels - ‘the Kingdom of God.’  Our Gospel is engaged principally with the subject of eternal life, as being the gift of God to the men of faith, the elect of His love.  The other Gospels discover to us the good works to which Christ calls those who would enter His millennial kingdom.  Nevertheless, John’s Gospel fails not to acknowledge the millennial hopes of Israel.  Moses and the prophets are owned throughout; but the Son of God appears as offering to Israel in Himself perfections greater far than those of which the nation in olden time could boast, whether under the patriarchs, or under law.



Our Gospel then reveals very fully the Person and Glory of Christ, and the new aspect of the Godhead.



We have also delineated the strife between the Jews and Jesus, in relation to His great testimony concerning the Sender and the Sent, or the Father and the Son, of one nature and power.  This was their chief stumbling-block.  The men of Moses refused this witness; and for this cause they have ever since been cut off from the Church of God.  The earthly people refused the heavenly things, and are left in their darkness, while the Church continues.



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1. ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.’



These observations premised, let us consider the opening words more deeply.  In the beginning was the Word.’  Genesis opens with ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.’  But our Gospel opens with a view of Christ the Creator.  He was already in existence, for ‘by Him were all things created.’  As a man is revealed by his words, so is God revealed by Christ, the Word.  When in the account of the creation, we read - ‘And God said,’ the reference is to the Son of God.  The Word was with God.’  He was not an attribute existing in God; but a companion.



At the very opening of John the doctrine of the Trinity begins to appear.  This person who was existent from all eternity, was not the Father, but a companion and equal of the Father.  Then, in the Unity of the Divine Being, as taught by Moses, we now learn that there is also plurality.  God was not solitary.  Of man He said, ‘It is not good he should be alone.’  This explains too that word ‘Let us make man, after our image.’



1. ‘And the Word was God.’



This sentence states the proper Godhead of the Second Person of the Trinity.  He was no subordinate being, possessed, as some said, of an inferior nature.  The Son is God; is so truly, and in the same sense as the Father is - God.  Here the old truth of the Law - the unity of God’s essence - is asserted.


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But may we not render it – ‘God was the Word’? - as Swedenborg does.  No: Greek syntax forbids it.  Had that been the meaning, there must have been the article before ‘God,’ as well as before ‘Word.’  And the effect of the article, if inserted, would be to declare that God and the Word are co-extensive.  There was no God but the Word.  The Three Persons of the Godhead would thus be denied.  And the Evangelist would thus set aside what he had just affirmed, that the Word was the Father’s companion.



The Arians asserted that there was a time when the Son was not in existence, but that He was created by God - the chief of creatures.  This verse declares His proper and real eternity.  Before creatures came into being, this Person, the Wisdom of God, was the companion of God.  These words establish us, then, against the human reasoning, that if Jesus Christ be the Son of God, He cannot be eternal; but began to be in time.  For must not a son be subsequent in time to his father?’ And we answer, ‘Among men, yes: with God, this follows not!’ Men are, in a case like this, extending their speculations to a region where the waxen pinions of reason melt. On this subject the only wisdom is with the simplicity of children to accept the witnessing of the Spirit of God. And that [He] says, that the Father was always a Father; and that the Son was from eternity in the Father’s bosom.  He was in the beginning with God.’



Observe, if the Son was in the beginning with God, he cannot have begun to be born of Mary ages after the creation.



3. ‘All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made.’



3. Jesus Christ, the Soil of God, and the Revealer of God, was also the Creator.  The Creed called ‘The Apostles’, wrongly states creation as effected by the Father.  Scripture traces creation to the Son.  It was He who carried out the Father’s mind in that respect, as in all others.  Everything was created by Him; everything without exception.’  Then Jesus Christ is God, in the full and proper sense.  How do we know there is a God? By the works of creation.  They are the witnesses to [Page 8] the eternity and Almighty power of their Creator.  He that built, all things is God,’ Rom. 1: 20; Heb. 3: 4.  This divine attribute of creation is assigned in all its fulness, to Christ, Col. 1: 13-15.  How, then, do Unitarians get over this testimony?  By limiting its meaning.   Jesus arranged all things relating to the Christian dispensation.’  They might as well say ‘It refers to His arranging the government of the Roman empire.’



In ‘the Word of God’ were united intelligence and power.  He gave the command, and the effect instantly followed.  The word used in the Greek () signifies that beginning to be, which belongs to the creature.  The difference between the Creator and the creature is expressed in those words of our Lord to the Jews:- ‘Before Abraham, began to be (…) I am ()’ John 8: 58.



3.  Without Him was not anything made that was made.’



Observe the care with which the [Holy] Spirit of God fences this so important truth.  Notice how the negative which concludes this verse settles another important question.  Philosophers of old denied creation properly so called.  With them matter was eternal.  God simply framed the world out of existent materials.  But Scripture asserts the contrary.  Matter began to be, when created by Christ.  So says Paul, Heb. 11: 3.



There is, then, no being equal to Christ, much less any superior to Him.  All other beings but the Godhead are the creation of the Son; all without exception.  Then the speculations of the Valentinians concerning successive Divine beings produced at different epochs by the Godhead, are false,



4. ‘In Him was Life.’



John’s eye is on the history of creation, as given in Gen. 1.  Jesus Christ was, and is, ‘Life itself.’  He was possessed of eternal life in Himself, and was the Imparter of life to all who possess it.  John, in his Epistle, calls Jesus ‘The Word of Life.’  For Life was manifested, and we saw it, and bear witness, and declare unto you the Eternal Life, who was [Page 9] with the Father, and was manifested to us.’  In the next verse he calls these two Persons of the Godhead, respectively, ‘Father and Son.’  Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ.’  Thus is overthrown the doctrine of Swedenborg, which denies the Trinity of Persons in the Godhead, and wholly perverts the testimony concerning the Son.



The proof of this GLORY’ of Jesus is given in chapters 6., 8., and in the resurrection of Lazarus.



We see by these statements, that it is the design of the Holy Spirit, and of John, His servant, to exalt our views of the Son to the highest extent.  Any doctrine, then, which depresses the Son, and takes away His glory, His power, and His twofold nature, as being at once both God and man, is false.



4. ‘And the LIFE was the Light of men.’



He who gave life to the creatures of the world, was also the possessor of all intelligence, and imparted it to Adam and his sons.  Whatever understanding is possessed by the sons of men, is due to the gift of the same Person who bestowed life on them.  Those, then, who divided the Eon ‘Life from ‘Light,’ making, them to be two distinct beings, or ‘Eons,’ as they called them, were in error.  See how carefully John guards his words.  Why?  Because he is leading his troops against subtle foes, who were desirous of finding a breach in his statements concerning the glory of Christ, at which they might be able to pour in their destructive speculations of unbelief.



The proofs of the position that ‘Jesus is Light’ are given in the body of the Gospel; in the many acts and assertions of our Lord concerning Himself.



5. And Light is shining in the darkness, and the darkness received it not.’



This verse is a very difficult one - arising mainly from the difference of the tenses in the two parts of it.  You have, first a present, and then a past tense.  Is John speaking of the ‘light’ of the Gospel, and of the world’s rejection of it?  It might seem that he is speaking of the former, if we look at 1 John 2: 8.


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But I believe the apostle to be speaking of the time since the fall of man, and up to the present day.  On the subject of God’s eternal power and Godhead, the works of creation gave and give clear light.  He who created all things must be Almighty, Omniscient, Eternal.  He cannot, as the Holy Spirit says, need anything from man’s hand.  He is not like gold or silver, graven by art and men’s device.  Rom. 1: 20.  Acts 17: 27, 28; 14: 15-17.  God has not left Himself without witness.  And as these works continue, so does the light which they throw on the nature of God.  Hence, we have the present tense - ‘The Light is shining.’  But since the creation, sin has entered, and darkness with sin: the darkness of falsehood, of enmity against God and man, and death. There is darkness in man, a darkness that the light of God’s works in creation has not scattered.  In spite of clear testimony to their Creator’s nature, man has never learned from them to know and serve his Creator.  He has plunged into idolatry, into pantheism or atheism.  The wise men of this fallen world were in darkness about God.  1 Cor. 1: 20, 21.  Hence the necessity of the coming of the Son of God to give light about God.  There was and is light enough in the works of creation to condemn man’s ignorance and idolatry, but not enough to save.







6-8. ‘There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  He came for a testimony, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe.  He was not the Light, but was sent to bear witness of the Light.’



The Baptist is, throughout our Gospel, called ‘John,’ without the mark of distinction -  John the Baptist’ - which the other Gospels use in order to distinguish him from John the Apostle.  But John the Evangelist never names himself in the Gospel, but gives a description of himself only; hence he appropriates the name John to the forerunner of Jesus.



Why does this notice of the Baptist come in at so early a point, and so close after the glories of Deity in Christ? The suggestion has been given, that it is designed to overturn false ideas about the Baptist, which held sway in the minds of some.


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John was not the Light.’  This is an inspired contradiction to those who were falling into perdition through setting up the Baptist in the place of the Saviour.  Hence also, very speedily in the history of this Gospel, we have John’s own testimony, that he was not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet promised by Moses in Deut. 18.



In Luke 3: 15 we learn that ‘many were doubting, whether the Baptist were not the Christ.’  And, which is very noticeable, when Paul comes to Ephesus he finds twelve disciples, who had been baptized by John, but never had received the gifts of the Spirit.  On finding this, Paul required of them to be immersed on the authority of Jesus, as the Christ; and then he bestowed on them the Holy Ghost in his miraculous gifts, by the laying on of hands (Acts 19).  It seems clear, therefore, that Paul saw there was danger of the Baptist usurping the place of Christ, in the minds of some, since he required of them immersion anew.  Now John the Apostle was stationed at Ephesus, and doubtless it was because in his later day there was the same danger, that he gives this oracle of God with a view to overturn so fatal a mistake.



John, then, was a ‘man.’  He was not God.  He arose; he began to be ().  He was not, like Christ, from all eternity.  He was ‘sent by God.’  He it was of whom Malachi spoke, ‘Behold, I send my messenger.’  He so testifies concerning himself, ‘I am not the Christ, but am sent before Him,’ 3: 28.



He came, not to be the centre of all eyes and hearts, but to direct them by his testimony to another, even to Christ, the uncreated Light.  Jesus notices this distinction between Himself and John.  John was ‘the burning and the shining lamp,’ 5: 35.  But of Himself he says, ‘I am the Light of the World,’ 8: 12.  Several times in this Gospel does Jesus testify to His being ‘Light.’  To Nicodemus - ‘Light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather than Light,3: 19, 20.  When He gives sight to the man born blind, he says, ‘As long as I am in the world I am the Light of the world,’ 9: 5.  So [Page 12] when taking leave of blinded Israel, he says, ‘Yet a little while is the Light with you,’ 12: 35.



To this sense it is objected - ‘That it supposes the light was not yet come; which is not correct, for it had come, when John bore his witness.’  Whereto we reply, that these words refer to a period before John had come; and they take up that which is one of the bases of John’s Gospel - the testimonies of the Law and the Prophets, that the Most High was to come.  So Rom. 1: 1-3.  For John’s object is to connect the Gospel and Christ with the Creation and with the previous covenant with Israel: - truths which the ‘Men of Intelligence’ denied.



On what does our religion rest?  On argument?  No! on testimony.  It calls for faith; and faith supposes witnesses who testify.  John’s mission, then, was given with design to lead all, and not Israel alone, to believe. In the other Gospels, the Baptist’s witnessing is to Israel.  But here it takes a fuller sweep.  And though during his life his testimony was confined to Israel, yet since that day, his written words have led many to trust the Saviour as the Giver of Life and Light.



9.  The true Light, which enlighteneth every man, was to come into the world.’



This is a difficult verse; and it is, I doubt not, wrongly rendered in our version, the proof of which is, that it is obliged to insert the emphatic word ‘That.’  Moreover, it gives but a very poor hungry sense, by adding to ‘every man’ the words ‘that cometh into the world.’  This addition not only does not give any new force to the verse, but it gives a sense which is not in John, or in Scripture generally, applied to mere men.  To ‘come into the world’ is something spoken of by John, concerning the Nativity of Christ only.  The word ‘coming’ must be joined either to ‘man,’ or to ‘Light.  If not to ‘man,’ then to ‘Light.’  This last gives an excellent sense. Jesus is the True Light - the essential original Light - from which all others, physical or spiritual, are borrowed. ‘He enlighteneth every man.’  All light, whether of intelligence or of conscience, found among men, comes from Him.  Thus this verse fastens on to the previous one, ver. 4.  The Creator [Page 13] of man, the Giver of intelligence to all men, was destined, as Scriptures foretold, to come into the world He had made.  Thus, Jesus’ coming is connected with the Old Testament Scriptures.  It is one God in action throughout: not two rival and antagonistic Gods, as the Gnostics taught.



Christ, who as Son of God, is the enlightener of every man by reason and conscience, was promised as about to come into the world.  Take as proofs these passages of Isaiah 42: 1-8; 49: 1-9; 9: 1-2.  Moses and the prophets were inspired to foretell this great event, and accordingly many were on the out-look for Messiah when He came.  Moreover, He is continually spoken of as ‘the Coming One,’ ‘the Comer into the world.’  So John the Baptist speaks of Him.  He that cometh after me.’  Art thou he that should come?’  I know that Messiah is coming.’  Thou art (says Martha) the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.’ So John 6: 14.



Let us take one or two more of these prophecies.  To us a child is born; unto us a Son is given. ... and His name shall be called the Mighty God.’  So, Malachi, after speaking of John as the Messenger, foretells, also, the coming of Jehovah to His temple, the angel of the covenant, Mal. 3: 1.  But who may abide the day of His coming?’



This sense, then, is not only in consistency with the Scriptures in general, but with John’s present aim.  In showing that the advent of this Great Deliverer had already been foretold, he maintained that the Creator and the Giver of the Law and the Prophets, were one and the same Person.  Thus he treads down the deceits of the Gnostics, who laboured to set the Father of Christ, and Christ Himself, in opposition to the Creator and the God of Israel.  Moses and the prophets, then, are accredited by John and by Jesus.  And this gives additional force to the next two verses.  For if His coming, who is the God of all, had been predicted, so much the greater was the blindness of the Gentiles and of Israel, in that they recognized Him not when He came.  Those enlightened of God, as the Magi, gave worship to Jesus, as the King of Israel.



This text was the centre once of a very stormy fight.  It [page 14] was the great Quaker-text, on which they relied to establish their destructive doctrine.  The Quakers arose about the time of the great civil war in England.  They asserted that Every man had within him light enough to guide and to save him.  This inward light they called ‘Christ,’ and ‘the Spirit;’ perverting the Scriptures, which mean by these terms the God-man Christ Jesus, the Son of God; and the Holy Ghost sent down by Him.



Those who held fast by the Scriptures were required, therefore, to show, as Bunyan did, that the Quaker doctrine denied the testimony of the Word of God about the Fall, and overthrow the distinction everywhere therein set up between the converted and the unconverted, the elect and the reprobate.



The Quaker preaching up of ‘the light within every man,’ led them to make light of, to deny, and to blaspheme the Person of Jesus Christ.  Instead of His birth, death, resurrection, and ascension, as a man outside them, they spoke of a birth, death, blood-shedding, resurrection, and ascension within them!



The orthodox objected to the Quaker doctrine, that the light within, whether of conscience or of reason, or of both, was but a created and fallible light; unable to save men.  Those errorists were therefore drawn on to deny a truth which made void their scheme.  They affirmed, that it was no created and fallible light, but uncreated, infallible, able to save them: making them, as they said, ‘equal with God.’  The light within them created all things!’ - Bunyan’s Gospel Truths opened, pp. 134, 152, 191, 206. Burton, 139.



They would ‘own Christ no otherwise than as He was before the world was made.’  Then, said Bunyan, ‘you deny that Jesus Christ has been born of Mary.  For His birth of Mary was something that took place some four thousand years after the creation.  And denying this, you are Antichrists, against whom we are warned.’  The Quakers of that day denied, too, the coming again of Jesus Christ in the flesh; which is another token of their being Antichrists.



This verse is wrongly rendered.  Rightly translated, as given [Page 15] above, it lends no aid to Quaker views.  The early Quakers refused, with boldness and contempt, the testimony to Jesus Christ, as the man who was born at Bethlehem, and died at Jerusalem.  According to them, Every man had within him sufficient light to save him. He was not to be turned to look outward and away from himself; he had, as a man, saving light within.  And this light they called ‘Christ,’ to the production of great error and unbelief.  The orthodox said, that the light within each was only ‘the light of reason and conscience, a created light.’  G. Fox denied it in the words which follow:-



Ans.  Which is contrary to John 1: 9, who saith, “it was the true light, by which all things were made; which, as many as received Him, he gave them power to become the ‘sons of God,’ which is beyond natural sense and reason.” - Great Mystery, pp. 39, 9, 10, 206.



Bunyan said, that ‘Not every man had the Spirit of Christ within Him.’  G. Fox replied, ‘Every man that cometh into the world is enlightened.’  Thus the two systems of Christ and of Antichrist came into conflict.



The salvation which the Son of God came to bring was to be effected by means of an object outside men, even Himself as born, dying, risen.  The salvation which Jesus brought, was, He tells us, typified by the deliverance which Israel, when bitten by the serpents in the wilderness, experienced.  They were directed, in order to be healed, to look not at their wounds, nor at some unknown light or power within; but at the serpent of brass outside them.  While they were left to their own power and resources, ‘Much people of Israel died.’  But when any looked on God’s external means of salvation, he recovered.  These two schemes then are fundamentally opposed the one to the other.  If the one be the witness of this Spirit of Christ, the other is that of Antichrist.



Baxter, Bunyan, and those who held the truth, preached continually a Christ outside themselves, by whose works in the flesh, by whose death and blood-shedding, resurrection and ascension, they were justified.  The Quakers replied, by asserting that men were saved by the blood, the birth, the resurrection and ascension of the light within every man!  Now the light within every man, whether of reason or conscience, can only convict and condemn.  Here we see of what immense [Page 16] moment the true rendering of every verse of the Scripture is, since any mistake admitted even un-designedly within the text, affords room on which errors of Satan fasten and destroy many.



10. ‘He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not.’



As the Saviour’s coming was foretold, so, in the Father’s appointed season, He actually came.



He was the Creator.  The same truth given in verse 8 is anew asserted.  The previous cavil - that Jesus’ making all things was only His ‘arranging the Christian religion’ - is here more manifestly refuted.  For God, sensible of the various deceits of the Wicked One, and his attempts to turn aside His saving truth, has left amply sufficient testimonies to build up the truth and to beat down error.



But the world recognised not its Creator when He came.  Observe, that which was previously spoken of as “the Light” is now described as a PersonHim.’  The Saviour is the Creator.  This is another truth set up against the deceits of the ‘knowing ones.’  For they taught a God superior to the Creator.  Their Christ came as a rival and a foe to the Creator.  He came,’ they said, ‘to deliver men from His tyranny.’



If the world recognised not its Creator when He came, how much less wonderful is it that the world does not recognise the sons of God!  This is the sentiment of John in his Epistle - 1 John 3: 1.



11. ‘He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.’



Jesus joined Himself as a Jew to the Jews.  He was ‘made of the seed of David according to the flesh.’  He was born in the land of promise.  He was presented in God’s temple at Jerusalem.  He went up thither as a boy to the feasts.  He was baptised as a Jew by God’s messenger to the Jews.  His mission was at first exclusively to them.



Then, Jesus Christ the Creator was also the God of Israel, or of the Old Testament.  Here is another assertion of truth against the denials of the ‘men of intelligence.’  The Jews were the people of God by covenant - they were made His at [Page 17] Sinai.  Ex. 19: 5.  Christ presented Himself to Israel as their King, centre of all their hopes; and was refused.



The rejection of the true Christ by Israel is exhibited all through this Gospel.  The great enemies of the Christ are the Jews, as our Gospel throughout makes manifest.  The prediction of this unbelief was long before given by Isaiah.  Is. 6, John 12: 41.  And so it came to pass.  The greater God’s mercies bestowed on Israel were, the worse were their returns of unbelief.  Israel behaved to the Son of God worse than idolatrous Gentiles whom they despised.  The most guilty city of all the earth was the one God had called and chosen as His own.



In Matthew and the other Gospels the rejection of Christ the Son of God is traced for us, step by step, up to the crucifixion and refusal of the resurrection.  But John begins by assuming this rejection; for his Gospel is based upon the difference between the birth of the flesh, and the birth of the Spirit.  Thus are we led to a truth which sets Israel and the Gentiles at once on the same level: both are ‘flesh of the flesh.’  And this brings in grace to all the world alike, and throws down Israel’s former standing as the one people of God.



God the Creator is the Author alike of the Old Testament and of the New; of the dispensation of justice under Moses, and of the present dispensation of grace through His Son.



12, 13. ‘But as many as received Him, to them gave He warrant to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.  Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.’



Behold then the origin of a new people, characterised by faith.  Israel became the ancient people of God by their trusting Moses as sent by Jehovah the God of their fathers.



But when that people in its blindness refused the Son of God, the Most High raised up a new people, characterised by faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God.  These are found scattered through every land and people and tongue. The great turning point now is: What think you of Christ?   Is He the Son of God?  Was He the Creator - the God of Israel?  Is God to be known as Father, Son, and Spirit?


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The receivers of this name of God, and of Christ Jesus as the Son of God become, in virtue of this faith wrought by the Holy Ghost, ‘sons of God.’  Christ was the Son of God before the world was - these begin to be sons of God long since the creation.



There were errorists then (and there will be again) who affirmed, that the reception or rejection of the Gospel turned upon some original difference of nature, found in the flesh at birth.  This the Spirit of God here denies. There is no peculiar readiness to receive the Son of God in any, considered simply as born into the world, flesh of the flesh.  The old people of the Sinaitic Covenant were a people born after the flesh, and called to the enjoyment of an earthly inheritance.  But the new people are men of faith - begotten by the Spirit of God, and only these do realty believe in the Son of God.



How do any receive Christ?  By baptismal regeneration?  Nay; but by believing in Him as Son of God (20: 31). He, then, is no Christian, and no son of God, who does not believe.  The attempt to ‘Christen,’ or to make a Christian of any, by an ordinance of water without faith, is ruinous.



The sons of God are ‘by nature children of wrath’ like others.  Persons are not born Christians, even though both parents be Christians.  Parents of the flesh cannot impart the new, and spiritual nature.



Here, then, it is clear, that the Gospel does not recognise any superiority in the children of believers over the children of unbelievers.  Both are alike children of fallen flesh. ‘And the children of the flesh,’ says Paul, ‘are not the children of God,’ Rom. 9: 8.  Hence, then, neither ought children of the flesh to receive the rite of Baptism.  The rightly baptised are those justified by faith - the saved.  Baptism, or the emersion out of the water, is the new visible birth, which follows after the new life communicated by the Spirit of God.  Hence Jesus, in this Gospel, testifies to Nicodemus - the Jew, the Pharisee, the Scribe, the Ruler - that, in spite of all his boasts of his [Page 19] descent - his birth, as being only flesh of the flesh, would not admit him into the millennial glory.  Verily, I say unto thee, ye must be born again.’  And where our Lord witnesses of the necessity of this new life by the Spirit’s regeneration, He testifies also to the new birth, or that visible coming forth out of the womb of the waters, which God has annexed to this being begotten by the Spirit.



The Jews’ boasts, then, of their parentage, are hereby all set aside.  How vain that birth of the flesh which knew not the Hope of Israel, and refused the Creator-Son of God!  Here is alone true dignity - the being sons, not of the kings of earth , but sons of God in the Son of God!  And this dignity God bestows, according to His counsels of electing grace, mainly on the poor and despised of this world.



If we have this dignity, what need we care about the glory, and wealth, and titles of earth?  How came it to pass that we accepted Christ, when others reject Him? (1) Negatively – It was no superiority of the flesh - no result of ancestry - not by baptism – no clearer understanding, or better education, or example.  (2) Positively - It was the consequence of our being begotten by the Spirit of God.



4. ‘And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.’



This subject is of the deepest moment to us: it is carefully taught here, and to be approached in a reverent and childlike spirit.



The Word’ - He who has been before described as the Creator, as existing from eternity with the Father – ‘became flesh.’ Here begins a new era in His history - a new era to us.  John, in his Epistle, in the same way divides the Saviour’s existence.  The Eternal Life who was with the Father, and was manifested unto us,’ 1 John 1: 2.  Observe the difference the accuracy of the expressions used:- ‘In the beginning was the Word.’  But He ‘was made (or became) flesh.’  That took place, not in eternity, but in time.  Jesus began to be, 4,000 years after creation. We are being taught, then, [Page 20] not concerning wisdom or any attribute or perfection of God, but about a Person: One who appeared as a man on earth.



The expression is carefully chosen.  We generally say, ‘He became man,’ or ‘was incarnate,’ or ‘took a body.’ But a body may be taken, which is not flesh.  And the other phrase would lead us to imagine that Jesus was a body without soul or spirit.  But no!  Jesus came not in sinful flesh, as the Irvingites and Swedenborgians assert, but ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh’ - though He was the Son of God.  Rom. 8: 3.  This tells us, too, which person of the Godhead became man.  It was not, as Swedenborg, says, ‘the Father.’  It was the Creator-Son of God who was sent by the Father to take flesh.  The flesh taken by the Son of God was not ‘the Son,’ as that errorist teaches.  Observe how carefully the Spirit of God cuts off this deceit of Satan:- ‘Grace be with you, mercy and peace from God the Father, AND from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love,’ 2 John 3.



Jesus Christ’ is the name of the Son of God become flesh.  He became the Son of Man.  He was a Man.  As a man, He was possessed of [body] soul and spirit.  That is the usual meaning of flesh. Ps. 56: 4; 78: 39; Is. 31: 3-40, 6-8.



John has been thus accurate in his treatment of this subject, because it is the foundation of the truth of Christianity.  Error on this point is deadly.  This truth is made the test of true or false doctrine (1 John 4: 2). John thus puts in his contradiction to the deceits abroad around him.



Those errors were mainly four.



1. ‘The Word was made flesh.’  This was said against the Phantomists, who taught that the Saviour’s body was not of real flesh, but an illusion only, which imposed on the senses of the spectators.  Against this we affirm, that the Word took flesh really.  He who took flesh was also ‘very God of very God.’  This we hold against the Ebionites, He took human nature ‘truly.’



2. There was another error, that of those who supposed our Lord to take only a part of human nature.  Such assert that [Page 21] our Lord took only the human body the Godhead in Him supplying the place of the soul and spirit.  That was the error of the Apollinarians; whereto the Swedenborgians add the further error that it was the Father who took flesh, the Son being only the body, which the Father took.  On their views, the Word was not with God, and was not God, nor in the beginning with God.  Against this we testify, that Jesus took flesh ‘perfectly.’  He had a soul - ‘Now is My soul troubled,’ 12: 27.  He had a spirit* - ‘He groaned in the spirit and was troubled,’ 11: 33.   He had a body also.  He spake of the temple of His body,’ 2: 21.  Then took they the body of Jesus and wound it in clothes with the spices,’ 19: 40.


[* See also John 19: 30. cf. Jas. 2: 26a.]



3. There was a third error.  If you put mercury beside lead, it will take up some of the lead, and form out of the two substances a third, which is neither quicksilver nor lead, but an amalgam.  Some of the errorists, as Eutychees, taught, that the two natures of the Godhead and the manhood in Christ formed a new compound different from either of the two.   The Christ was a being possessed of but one nature, higher than the manhood, but lower than the Godhead.  Against this we testify, that the Son took human nature ‘unconfusedly;’ the Godhead and the manhood retaining each its separate powers and properties without confusion.  And so says the Athanasian Creed that Jesus Christ is – ‘One, not by conversion (change) of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the manhood into God.  One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person.  For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ’ (Phil. 2: 6-8).  There in Jesus Christ two natures, perfectly distinct, making up one person.



4.  At this point again entered the spirit of error, which was especially called to witness against at Ephesus.  For there was found in John’s day an errorist named Cerinthus, who made of Jesus Christ two persons. According to him, Jesus was the mere man, born as other men are; His vast superiority over other men originated only at His baptism, [Page 22] when an Eon of great power and intelligence, called ‘the Christ,’ came upon Jesus, and He became Jesus Christ.  The Christ came upon Jesus after His baptism, and left Him before the Crucifixion.  Against this, Scripture testifies, that it was the Creator who took flesh.  There are two natures, but only one Person, in Christ Jesus.



The Word tabernacled with us.’  The expression is chosen with design, to connect our Lord’s appearing as a man on earth with previous visits of God to man.  In Eden, God appeared to condemn the guilty pair; ‘but He did not tabernacle there.’  He caused to tabernacle, at the east of Eden, the cherubim and a flaming sword’ (Heb).  In this expression of John we have a second reference to the descent of Jehovah into the bush of the desert, when He spake to Moses.  God is said to have dwelt in the bush.  But He did so in a far more excellent sense, when, after coming down on Mount Sinai, He entered into the Royal Tent, pitched by His order in the midst of the Tribes of Israel.  That was great condescension.  ‘Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them,’ Exodus 25: 8.  I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God.  And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, that brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them.  I am the Lord their God,’ 29: 45, 46.  Thus Jehovah dwelt in a tent among the perverse nation, and abode there in spite of their many provocations.  But He dwelt amongst them in justice as well as in grace.  He was there as their King and Judge, deciding their movements, passing sentence on offenders, and executing them.



That exhibition of God, suited to law and justice, passed away.  A new and better covenant was to come, and the Son of God descends as a man to ‘tabernacle’ among men.  It was great condescension for the Maker of all, to take post in the poor little tent spread for Him, although He dwelt there in state, waited on by His own ministers.  At length God abides among men in the body which the Father, and not man, had pitched for Him. ‘God was manifest in the flesh.’


[Page 23]

We beheld His glory.’  The ‘we’ seems to refer especially to believers.  John the Apostle was one of the eye-witnesses.  He beheld in Christ a double glory - material and spiritual.  When Jehovah entered into the Royal Pavilion prepared for Him, it was with a glory (or brightness) so great, that the priests could not stand to minister.  Also there was a terrible glory in His cutting off of offenders in the desert.  John then beheld a double glory in Christ. He was one of the three who saw the brightness, as of the sun, stream forth from the Saviour’s face on the Mount.  He beheld, also, the spiritual glory of the Lord’s turning the water into wine, and the raising of the dead; specially, as detailed in this Gospel, in the resurrection of Lazarus.



He heard a voice out of the exceeding glory testify, that Jesus was the Father’s well-beloved Son: a testimony which set Him at an infinite distance above Moses and the Prophets.



This glory was of ‘the Only-begotten from the Father.’  These words, then, refute the ideas of some of ‘the men of intelligence,’ that there were many like Emanations proceeding from God.  No!  He is the Only begotten.  He is related to the Father, as an only son is to an earthly father.  He is ‘begotten, not made,’ partaker in full of His Father’s Godhead.



But if so, do you not introduce another difficulty?  If He be the begotten Son of God, proceeding from the Father, do you not imply, that He is not eternal, but had a beginning, after the Father?’



At this point two errors may seek to enter, ‘Jesus Christ is God; therefore not a Son of God.’  Then arises Tritheism, or the doctrine of three Gods.  Or, ‘Jesus Christ is Son - therefore He is not God.’  Then Arianism comes in.  We testify on the contrary, then, with Scripture, that Jesus Christ is the Eternal Son of God, and is God.  Eternal decrees’ contains as great a difficulty as ‘Eternal Son.’  Eternity introduces difficulties beyond our plumb-line.



Jesus is ‘the Only-begotten’ in relation to the many figurative ‘sons of God.’  Angels are sons of God by creation; but in the sense in which Christ is so, they are not sons at all.  He [Page 24] stands alone.  In another sense those begotten anew of the Spirit become adopted Sons of God.  But they begin to be so, after having become men.  Christ was Son from all eternity.  Still further, to set the matter clearly, the Spirit of God adds - ‘Only-begotten from the Father,’ as distinct from Him eternally, and sent forth from the Father.  Jesus uses this phrase in reference to Himself (3: 16-18).  The word is then to be taken in the loftiest sense of which it is capable; for the giving of Jesus Christ is alleged to be the very greatest gift which is possible.  The higher the person of Christ, the greater the glory of God in the gift of His Son.



Full of grace and truth.’  These perfections, even in the days of Moses, are witnessed by God to be part of the glory of the Lord Jehovah’s character, Ex. 34.  But in the days of law they could not be manifested, as they were under the Gospel.  Jesus was seen among the fallen, ‘full of grace’ pardoning offences, even against Himself, when they blasphemed Him, and sought to put Him to death.  He smote them not, as He did those who rose up against Moses and Aaron.  Do Nadab and Abihu, offer strange fire?  They are cut off.  Do men nail Christ to the Cross?  He asks His Father to spare them!



The Incarnation of the Son of God, then, is the great centre-truth of the Gospel.  Deny it, and you are thrown back on the level of the Law.  Believe it, and you are exalted to partaking in the Divine nature.  You become a son of God in the Son of God; and are beloved of the Father as Christ Himself is.  You have the Spirit of God dwelling in you, to give you the spirit of a son, that you may cry to God – ‘Abba Father!’  Wondrous redemption! which calls forth these great operations of the Trinity in Unity!



The present tense, as used of John’s testimony, is singular.  John beareth witness.’  It is noted hereby that His disciples were publicly warned not to regard Himself as superior.



The testimonies to Jesus’ pre-existence are several times given by our Lord Himself, 6: 62; 8: 58; 17: 5, 24.


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John was quite subordinate.  He was one of the receivers of the Lord’s bounty - not the Great Giver.  He tells us of the Great Fulness, whereat our emptiness can be supplied.



15-18. ‘John beareth witness of Him, and shouted, saying, “This is He of whom I said, He that cometh after me has become before me, for He was before me.”  And out of His fulness we all received, and grace for grace.  For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth were through Jesus Christ.  None has ever seen God at any time; the Only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He declared Him.’



This seems a Summary of John’s testimony, answering to that of our Lord in chap. 12: 44-50.  The importance of John Baptist’s witness is thus shown, and his own testimony to the inferior place which he himself occupied, in comparison with the Son of God.  John, in beholding Jesus, saw the Only-begotten Son.  His two-fold nature, as compared with John’s single nature, is given in an enigmatic form.  John was born six months before Christ; and yet Jesus was in existence before John, and in pre-eminence in consequence.  How?  Because our Lord was possessed of another and an eternal nature; to which, also, He referred in His controversy with Israel, as being really implied in Ps. 110: 1; (Matt. 22: 41-16), ‘The Lord said unto my Lord.’



Jesus, in John the Baptist’s eyes, was the Lord of light and life to His creatures.  The creature has no strength, or intelligence, or goodness, save as derived from Him.  The word ‘fulness,’ (Pleeroma), used here and in Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians and Colossians, was one of the words much employed in the false systems of the Gnostics.  They meant by it a space answering nearly to our heaven, considered as the abode of God.  But John and Paul apply it rightly, as referring to the spiritual fulness of God and Christ, Eph. 3: 19, 4: 13; Col. 1: 19, 2: 9.  John Baptist therefore confesses himself to be a creature, and Christ to be the Creator, possessed of, and communicating, all good.  Various are the ways in which the expression ‘grace for grace’ is taken. I understand it to mean, that Christ out of the universal fulness of all spiritual good which dwells in Him, has bestowed some of each grace which He possesses, upon His [Page 26] people.  In Jesus, for instance, there is wisdom; out of that wisdom He imparts to believers.  He has love; out of that love He bestows love on us.  So then for every perfection which dwells in Himself, He is pleased to communicate some of that to His people. John Baptist is now speaking in a more restricted sense than in ver. 3, 4, for he mentions grace as received by ‘US;’ and it had been previously affirmed, that the darkness refuses the light of God, which is in Christ.



This paragraph (15-18), then, is closely linked on to ver. 14.  Does the Evangelist say ‘The Word became flesh?’ the Baptist owns the human nature of Jesus, by saying, that He came after himself.  But the Baptist confesses also the Divine nature of the Word, when he adds, that Jesus was in existence before him, and vastly pre-eminent above him.  Does the Evangelist say, that Christ was ‘full of grace and truth?’  John Baptist confesses the fulness of Christ as the fount of supply, communicating every grace possessed by His people. Does this Gospel declare ‘grace and truth,’ as the great characteristics of ‘the Only-begotten of the Father?’ John Baptist affirms, that the Son came as the contrast to Moses and law.  Law made demands in justice on men; and was necessary to prove to the fallen their need of the grace of a Saviour.  Accordingly, in the appointed season, the Forerunner testifies to the grace and truth which came by Jesus.  Moses is to be superseded by Christ.  Moses is the minister of law, condemnation, and death.  He cannot give life.  But men are slow to get rid of their proud thoughts of goodness in themselves.  Therefore Moses must go first to convict of sin.



Here, for the first time in this Gospel, we find the name which is above every name, after the Evangelist has declared His two natures.  First, we have His Godhead - as the Word, the Creator; then His manhood, when He entered into the habitable earth, and He became known as Jesus the Christ.



The Word of God came to earth in order to manifest to us the true God, as disclosed by the Son of God.  The Only-Begotten [Page 27] Son* who is in the bosom of the Father, He declared Him.’  This also takes up the testimony of the fourteenth verse, which teaches that the glory which the disciples ‘beheld in Jesus was the glory of the Only-begotten from the Father.’


* Ought we to accept the startling reading here of three of the uncial copies – ‘Only begotten God?’ The question is not so difficult to decide.  These three uncials have been tampered with, as will appear to any who investigate the matter.  The decisive point, I submit, is, that they omit the article before ‘God.’  Then it will stand only – ‘An only-begotten God,’ and this was more easily reconcilable with the error of Arius, than the Received Text, which is supported by the vast majority of copies, both uncial and cursive.



Thus ends the PREFACE.  It is designed to set before us – (1)  The Word as he is in Himself, and in relation to God, and to creation.  (2) Unbelief concerning Him.  (3) The circle of Faith, which He supplies with every grace.  This gives us in a few words the general scheme of this Gospel.



How great the mercy of God to fix our time, not beneath Moses and law, which could not fully reveal God; but under Jesus as the Son Incarnate, overflowing with goodness, not to Jews alone, but to us Gentiles!  Law which demands the rights of God as the Sovereign, does indeed exhibit one feature of the Most High; but the Gospel of Jesus alone can discover God as the Giver to those who are bankrupts.  Law gave also shadows of the good things that were to come in the Gospel, and are yet to come in millennial and eternal glory; but the truth about God, His nature, and worship, could only be manifested by one of the persons of the Godhead.  All who preceded Him were slaves sent by the King; but this is the Son, ‘very God of very God,’ sent to make known to believers the love that God bears to them, and to tell us of the Father, the Son, and the [Holy] Spirit, as all engaged in the blest work of redemption.







19-23. ‘And this is the testimony of John when the Jews sent Priests and Levites from Jerusalem, that they might ask him - “Who art thou?”  And he confessed, and denied not, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Art thou Elijah?”  And he saith “I [Page 28] am not.”  “Art thou the Prophet?”  And he answered, “No!”  They said therefore to him, “Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us.” He said, “I am the voice of one shouting in the wilderness - Prepare ye the way of the Lord - as said Esaias the prophet.”’



This testimony is cited in pursuance of the notice given in the preface that John was not ‘the Light,’ but was sent to bear witness to the Son of God as the Light.  The importance of it in that day we learn, not only from the twelve disciples at Ephesus, but also from Paul’s sermon at Antioch in Pisidia.  There he is careful to state, that John Baptist was only the forerunner of Christ, and his testimony that he was not the Christ but far inferior to Him (Acts 13: 25-26).  Apollos, too, is another example of the extent to which this ministry of John had penetrated (Acts 18: 24-25).  He needed to be led on to see the subordinate place of John, and the vast interval of advance which had been made in the counsels of God since that ministry had ended.



Also it is given to confirm the statement, that Jesus came to His own, yet was not received; and that, in spite of the witnessing of John Baptist.  In this place ‘His own’ are seen to be ‘the Jews’ led by their sacred chiefs - the Priests and Levites.  It is evident also that this testimony was of the utmost moment, if many in Asia Minor were even then clinging to John the Baptist, as if he were the Christ.  Strong then was the temptation to assert himself to be the Christ; or to leave the matter in a mysterious silence, in which the idea might grow.  But John overcame it.  He was faithful.  His own words, therefore, are adduced by the Apostle to scatter this delusion, so destructive to all true faith.  And how could any profess to be the disciples of John Baptist, yet refuse their Master’s words?



19. ‘The Jews sent Priests.’



Very remarkable it is to find John, the Jew by birth, sever himself from his own nation.  The Apostle is now a Christian, and his spiritual birth weans him from the people of the flesh who had rejected Christ.  Hence he says on one occasion [Page 29] very significantly, ‘after the manner of the purifying of the Jews.’  For John knew of the one great purification of the better covenant, effected by blood; so that he had no need to go back to the old.  The synagogue was now a ‘synagogue of Satan.’



This passage of the history was doubtless ever memorable to the Apostle.  He was probably ready before to give too high a place to the Baptist.  John’s message had stirred the whole nation.  The officials of it - generally the last to be reached by a great movement - send to enquire about him.  To the tribe of Levi the Lord under Moses had committed the teaching of Israel (Dent. 33: 10).  But though they heard John’s witnessing, they did not accept it.  They did not press him to show them who this great leader of Israel was.  This was the beginning of Jesus’ official rejection by His own people.  There standeth one among you whom ye know not;’ it is implied then that the Baptist did know; and that implies, that Jesus had been baptized by John.



John the Evangelist was at first a disciple of the Baptist, and was probably present when this official deputation from God’s city, the place of the temple of Jehovah, arrived.  Many were musing whether John was not the Christ, as Luke tells us, 3: 15.  There also the Forerunner points the multitudes away to a greater than himself, who was to succeed him, and to communicate the Holy Spirit, while John himself had power only over the inferior element of water.  In this place he distinctly denies himself to be the Christ.  Observe what stress is laid by the Apostle on this point - proving that he was citing it controversially.  He confessed - and denied not - but confessed.’  Thrice over - twice positively, once negatively, this momentous truth is given; because, as we suppose, the salvation of multitudes of that time and region, turned on it.



Was he Elijah the prophet?’  He was not.  At this point the Saviour and His Forerunner at first sight seem to be in contradiction to one another.  For Jesus, when speaking of [Page 30] John to the multitudes, says, ‘And if ye are willing to receive it – ‘This is Elijah, who is to come,’ Matt. 11: 14.  Moreover, on the Mount of Transfiguration, when Elijah the Tishbite had appeared, together with Moses, the three disciples, under a sense of difficulty had appealed to Jesus on the point, how it could be true that He was the Christ, if, as the Scribes taught, Elijah was to go before Him?  For Elijah had only then been seen by them, while Jesus had been, for two years, probably, carrying on His ministry.  The Saviour’s reply, then, is to this effect:-



There are two comings of Christ; one in meekness to suffer; one in power and justice to reign.  Answerably there, are two Elijahs.  The first is already come, and has been slain, as I also shall be.’ That Elijah, who had already come, the three Apostles understood (and rightly) to refer to John Baptist.  But our Lord recognised and taught a future coming of Elijah, the Old Testament prophet foretold by Malachi, in the words ‘Elias truly shall first come and restore all things.’  That was said after John’s death.  Moreover, Elijah is to do a work which John Baptist did not do.  He shall restore all things.’  This passage, then, reconciles all the testimonies upon the subject.  John Baptist was ‘in the spirit and power of Elias,’ Luke 1: 17.  But he was not the Elijah of Mal. 4., who is to precede the smiting of earth with the curse of the Lord, in the great and terrible day of the Lord (Matt. 17: 1-13).*


[* NOTE. Only after the Elijah of Mal. 4. cf. Rev. 11, will our Lord’s Millennial Kingdom be established (verse 15): that same “Kingdom,” which will precedes His eternal kingdom, in ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ (Rev. 21: 1): that same ‘Kingdom,’ which will be on this earth, the religious Jews - at that time - were expecting to be established at their Messiah’s first advent.]



Art thou the Prophet?’  These two parties are both well acquainted with their own Scriptures.  They need not to add – ‘the prophet whom Moses predicted in Dent. 18: 18.’  John Baptist still denies.  The prophet of whom Moses there spoke was really the Christ.  Therefore Peter cites it as fulfilled in Jesus (Acts 3: 22).  Thus, also, Stephen hints the same in Acts 7: 37: ‘This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; Him shall ye hear.’



At length the Baptist gives a positive reply.  He is the voice in the desert preceding the Lord’s presence, and preparing the [Page 31] way for it.  Thus, John Baptist, by his citation of Scripture and his references, indirectly asserts the Godhead of Jesus.  When he affirms that he was in one sense before Jesus, yet in another after Him, be points to Malachi 3., which tells us, that ‘the messenger’ (which John Baptist was) was to precede the coming of Jehovah (5: 1-5).  Even thus also said the angel at His birth (Luke 1: 16-17), ‘Many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.  And he shall go before Him (the Lord God) in the spirit and power of Elias.’  Also the passage in Is. 40., to which John refers, as expressly describing his mission, is equally clear.  Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  And the Glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.’ (Compare John 1: 14).  Now had Jerusalem been ready for Him, these priests and Levites would have fulfilled the ninth verse by testifying to the cities of Judah, that their God had come.  The two comings of Christ are implied in this passage from Isa. 40!  He has already come as the Shepherd (verse 11); and this fourh Gospel exhibits Him as testifying to Himself in that capacity (John 10.).  But ver. 10 of Isaiah 40. describes Him as He is yet to come, in glory and judgment, in the future. Also verses 12, 13, assume Him to be the Creator, as the Evangelist in his opening verses has testified.



24-28. ‘And they who were sent were of the Pharisees. And they asked him, and said unto him, “Why then immersest thou; if thou art not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”  John answered and said unto them, “I immerse in water; but amidst you stands one, whom ye know not.  He it is Who coming after me was before me, the thong of Whose sandal I am not worthy to untie!  These things took place in Bethany beyond Jordan, where John as immersing.’



Was not John, then, taking too much upon himself, in immersing, if he were neither the Christ nor Elijah? John’s answer   is to the effect, that his immersion was a very subordinate one to the immersion which the Christ would bestow (33).  He testifies, that that immersion in water was commanded him by God (1: 33).  It was, indeed, a part of the people’s preparation for the Christ.  It was a death and burial to Moses, as [Page 32] unable to save; and was preceded, as we are told, by a confession of sins.  But Moses cannot save the sinner; he justifies only the righteous; therefore this witness of John, and men’s acceptance of it by the reception of immersion, were a good preparation for the grace and riches which were to be bestowed by Christ.  If Moses could save, our Lord’s coming was needless.  Moreover, this immersion was a fulfilment of the word by the same prophet that foretold John Baptist’s advent.  Still further, it was designed to minister the opportunity by which Christ should be manifested to Israel (1: 31).  Jesus was known by John Baptist, and testified, to, in consequence of Jesus’ acceptance of the rite of immersion.  Then came the [Holy] Spirit and the Father’s voice.



Our Lord’s vast superiority is asserted by the greatest born of women.  He was not worthy to do the most menial office for Christ.  Yet Israel - yet the Priests and Levites knew him not!  And they did not care to inquire further for the Holy One of Israel, though this implied that John knew Him.  It must have been after Jesus’ baptism that this interview took place.



These Priests and Levites were of the strictest sect of their religion.  They, in general, refused John’s testimony; and the immersion, which was the visible proof of a man’s accepting it (Luke 7: 30).  Their pride would not stoop to it.  They did not reckon themselves sinners and accursed by the law.  Hence, morally and spiritually, they were not ready for Christ and His message.  So that their refusal of John’s baptism rested upon a real antagonism of spirit to the truth he was sent to herald.



This answer of the Baptist implies, that the prophets spoke of two baptisms - that of water, and that of the [Holy] Spirit.  John’s was only the preparatory one.  The greater baptism would be communicated by the Christ.  The baptism of water had been foretold in Is. 1: 16, 17.  And this call John Baptist enforced.  But to those who rightly accepted that there was an immersion in the Spirit, of which the prophets also spoke, as in Isaiah 32: 15, 44: 3, 59: 21; Ez. 36: 27, 39: 29, and Joel 2.  The preparatory baptism of John, then, was the witness that Messiah [Page 33] was already come, and was designed to point out who were ready for Him.



It answered to the older baptism of persons and clothes, which by God’s command took place at Sinai, as the preparation of the people of Israel to meet the Lord their God, descending to covenant with them, through Moses the Mediator.  That preparation of old none seem to have resisted.  For God then came in judgment, and fear possessed their souls.  But Moses has passed by.  The Lord Himself had come in grace to tabernacle with them; and now many reject the counsel of God against themselves.



The majority of copies read ‘Bethany beyond Jordan.’



Where ‘Bethany beyond Jordan’ is, is at present not known.



29. ‘The next day he seeth Jesus coming to him, and saith, “Behold Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world. This is He of whom I spake – ‘After me cometh a man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’  And I knew Him not, but in order that He might be made manifest to Israel, therefore came I immersing in the water.”’



This interview seems evidently to have taken place after the Saviour’s baptism and temptation; as the series of events is now given with such exact statement of the days, and even hours of the day, that there is no room to interpose forty days.  John Baptist knew not Jesus as the Son of God till after His baptism.



This testimony of the Baptist probably took place in the presence of His disciples, and greatly affected one Apostle; he being most probably led to Christ and away from the Baptist by his Master’s own teaching.  The Apostle then is very particular in his narrative here.  This testimony connects Jesus with the previous witnessing borne to the deputation from Jerusalem.



29. ‘Behold the Lamb of God!’



The doctrine is of the deepest moment.  To John, as the inspired man, the Saviour’s primary course and mission was revealed.  He does not speak of Jesus as the Jewish King, raised up to smite the Gentiles, and destroy the guilty by [Page 34] power.  He is to prevail, not by His life, but by His sacrificial death.



Why is He called ‘the Lamb of God’?  In opposition to the lambs of man’s providing.  Jesus is ‘the Lamb of God,’ because provided by the Most High, to redeem by His sacrifice the lost.  There is doubtless a reference to the sacrifice of Abraham, and his words, ‘My son, God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering.’  And also to the Psalm ‘A body hast thou prepared Me.  What the lambs of men could not effect, the one Lamb of God does.



With what purpose is our Lord so called?  He is taking away the sin of the world.’  This, then, was a reference to the use of lambs in the Jewish services.  (1) First, to the lamb of the Passover, which made atonement for the sins of Israel, and defended the houses of the chosen nation, when God went forth in judgment on the land of Egypt.



That Jesus was the true Passover-lamb is quietly assumed by John in our Gospel as self-evident (19: 36). Hence, in the very hour and power of darkness God set a limit to the foes’ degradation of His Son.  Hence too, in the Apocalypse of John, we see Jesus made Head over all, as the Lamb that was slain and is risen again. Before His pretensions thus stated, all the great ones of heaven bend down and confess themselves overcome. He is worthy; they are not.  Thus too Paul has told us, that Jesus was the Church’s paschal lamb, and therefore we are to keep the feast of unleavened bread (1 Cor. 5.).  Thus too Peter adds his testimony (1 Peter 1: 19).  In the blood of the Lamb all must wash their robes, who would stand accepted as priests before the throne of God on high (Rev. 7.).



Do you trust the blood of the Lamb, or not?’ is the testing question now.  According as your heart in love replies – ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; you are either one of the true Israel, or you are an Egyptian, ready to be cut off.



(2) The reference is next to the Lamb of the daily morning and evening sacrifice (Ex. 29: 38-46).  That was the continual [Page 35] sweet savour of atonement, on the ground of which Jehovah would consent to dwell in His tabernacle in glory among the sinful nation, and to be their God, That which these constant sacrifices could only very partially effect, the Son of God by one offering has produced already for His Church, which now trusts Him; and will effect for Israel, in the latter day.



(3) But there is a fuller reference to Is. 53.; in which Messiah is spoken of as put to death unresistingly as a lamb ; and is described also as bearing sins and putting them away.  Verses 4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 12.  Jesus then was revealed to John Baptist, as the bearer of sin with intent to put it away.  As the bearer, not of the sin of Israel alone, but of the world.  For that testimony is suited to the Gospel of John, which regards Israel as wholly under sin, like any other of the nations.  Thus it is proved, that Jesus’ death was no unexpected and untoward result, un-provided for in the counsels of God; but the unfolding of the plan for His present dealings in grace with the world at large.



Law lays sin on our conscience, and disquiets us. Grace takes sin away and gives peace, but only in perfect consistency with justice.  If sin is on you, you are lost; if your sin is on Christ, you are saved!



Is any one who reads this not forgiven? not at rest in soul?  Here is the secret of peace!  Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world!’  This requires no previous knowledge of election.  Are you one of the world? a sinner like the rest of men?  Here is God’s Deliverer, and deliverance is set before you!  What have you to do to make it yours?  Only to accept it, as it is offered by the Most High!  It is not to make yourself worthy of this, but to accept it in all your present unworthiness.  Herein it stands opposed to the view of the matter given under Law.  Was an Israelite sensible of sin.? . He must go to his flock, and provide or buy a victim without blemish, as a substitute for his blemished soul.  Now God has done that for us once for all. He alone could provide the perfect sacrifice.  He has done so.  He calls on all who [Page 36] would be saved to receive His testimony about His Lamb, and its peace-giving blood.  Hence the Scripture says not, ‘Provide a lamb for God, to take away your sin’ - but ‘Look to the Lamb which God has provided, and by which sin is put away.’ It is only a look: a look of faith; in opposition to great works or little works, great or little merits, or feelings on your part.  And thus the witness of Jesus and His forerunner closely correspond.  For when Jesus is describing to the teacher of Israel God’s plan of salvation, he sets it forth as resembling the rescue from death which God gave through the mediator in the desert.  When anyone bitten by the serpents but looked to the serpent of brass lifted up, he lived.  The bitten one returned to life, however deeply before that the venom had penetrated his vitals.  Only the blood of the Son of God could take away the sin of a world.  But that, beheld by faith, saves.



Thus ‘the Lamb of God’ means ‘the lamb provided by God,’ just as ‘the bread of God’ means ‘the bread provided by God,’ ‘the armour of God’ means ‘the armour supplied by God for us,’ and ‘the righteousness of God’ means ‘the righteousness provided by God for us the guilty.’



Here is the doctrine of a ‘suffering Messiah,’ at which the Jew has, ever since Christ’s appearing, stumbled. John knew and taught it by direct revelation; for although it was hinted even in the Garden as the bruising of the heel of the deliverer, so displeasing was it to human nature, that Israel accepted it not; and Peter, chief of the chosen Apostles, wrestles against it (Matt. 16.).



Here too is a doctrine far transcending Jewish ideas - not only the death of Messiah, but His death as the source of redemption to the world!



Behold!’  In that word John points away from himself to another.  John was sent to manifest Jesus to Israel, as the great centre of the promises; as the Messiah, the Anointed One of the prophets.  Here then the God of the New Testament is identified with the God of the Old.  This the Gnostics denied; this the God of truth affirms. The God exhibited in the [Page 37] Old Testament as the God of Justice, is also the Good God, who in mercy gave His Son in the New Testament.  Both justice and mercy belong in their perfection to God.



John Baptist next identifies the person of whom he had spoken such great things, with the man Christ Jesus before him.  He was not speaking of two persons, but of one only.  Thus he identifies Jesus with the Son of God.  Thus he destroys the Gnostic error of Cerinthus.  According to that falzehood, the man Jesus stood not before John Baptist, though the Christ did.  Nor was ‘Jesus’ preferred before John Baptist, because of His previous existence; because, on that view, He had no previous existence.  The same observation applies also against Swedenborg’s error.  The human body into which ‘the Father’ entered, was not in existence before John.  Neither Was Jesus in his views really a man.  The Father, in taking a human body, took neither the soul or spirit of a man.



In the thirty-first verse John Baptist testifies, that his witness to Jesus was not given in consequence of collusion with Christ, or as the result of family feelings.  John knew not Jesus by sight.  The two cousins had been severed from their earliest youth (Luke 1: 80).  Yet the great end of John Baptist’s mission was to manifest Jesus to Israel.  How then was he made to know who was the Lamb of God?  In the next verse he explains.



32. ‘And John bare witness saying, “I saw the Spirit descending as a dove out of the heavens, and it abode upon Him.  And I knew Him not; He that sent me to immerse in water, He said unto me, ‘On whomsoever thou shalt see the Spirit descending and abiding on Him, that is He who immerseth in the Holy Spirit.’  And I saw and bare witness that HE IS THE SON OF GOD.”’



The baptism of Jesus is one of the turning points of His as it is also of the spiritual history of His followers.  From that moment Jesus, who up to that time had appeared as the carpenter of Nazareth of Galilee, became the

Great Teacher and Wonder-worker in Israel.  By baptism Israel was to be prepared for Christ.  In Christ’s obedience [Page 38] to baptism He was Himself to be singled out from all others, as God’s chosen Deliverer.



On this point the Gnostics fastened as giving countenance to their new and false interpretation of the Gospel. Part of their allegation was true; even the statement just made above.  Their falsification of it consisted in their asserting (1) that Jesus before His baptism was but the mere man.  Against that, the opening verses of John, which describe Him as the eternally existing Creator and Son of the Father, have been directed.  (2) Their second falsehood consisted in asserting, that the Divine Person who came on Jesus was ‘the Christ,’ and that thus Jesus Christ was the temporary union of two persons.  This false doctrine was really refuted by the foregoing testimonies of the three Evangelists, who all affirm, that the Divine Person who descended out of heaven on our Lord was ‘the Holy Spirit’; and not ‘the Christ.’  But as this was and is one of the vital points of the faith, John was inspired to add his witnessing.



In the previous Gospels it was said, that Jesus saw the heaven opened, and the Spirit descending on Him.  In this Gospel John’s additional evidence was given, that he also saw the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus.  The Spirit descended as a dove: the Holy Ghost in person abode on Jesus Christ.  It is remarkable that He is not said to enter into Christ, but to abide on Him, even as under the Law anointing was an outward application. The Father’s voice out of the heavens attested that Jesus was His beloved Son, in whom He was ever well pleased.



Now this scene smites the doctrine of Swedenborg, and of the Spiritists with a deadly blow.  For, according to that teaching (1) it was the Father that dwelt in the human body which was called Jesus; and the Father at the baptism was abiding on earth, not up in the heaven; so that if the Father’s voice came forth from the place where He really was, it ought to have proceeded out of the mouth of Jesus!  (2) Moreover, the body which the Father took was, they say, [Page 39]the Son.’  But this body, they say, ‘was full of every vile passion; and the Father’s employment while on earth consisted in wrestling against this wickedness, and preventing it in appearing in act.’ God was engaged, according to them, as soon as He had taken up this body, in putting it off again; so that, though He took at first a body of flesh, it was so completely put off at last, that at His death (or rather, His seeming death) upon the cross, He had put off every particle of the body of flesh.  Does it need any sagacity to see, how diametrically opposed such teaching is to the declaration of the Father, that the Son was ‘His Beloved one in whom He was well pleased’?



This abiding of the Spirit upon God’s King and Israel’s Deliverer had been foretold by Isaiah (11: 2; 42: 1). How appropriate morally, that the Dove should abide upon the Lamb!



At Jesus’ baptism the Trinity in Unity appears.  The Father of the heavens attests the Son, and opens the heavens over Him.



The force of this opening of the heavens is not generally observed.  It is the basis of all the after-action of the dispensation.  It is the setting forth of the true God, the God of heaven - Father, Son, and Spirit.  It is the contrast to the scene at the commission given to Moses - when God descends to abide in the bush of earth, and pronounces Himself to be the self-existing God, the God of the fathers, the Lord of earth, about to lead Israel to their earthly portion.



This thirty-second verse is of vast moment.  It is a refutation of the Gnostic error, that the Being who came on Jesus was ‘the Christ.’  John Baptist on the contrary, declares that it was ‘the Spirit.’  He beheld the Spirit descend, as a Dove.  The person on whom the Spirit rested was Jesus the man, but also the Son of God (32-33).  The Great Deliverer is not the temporary union of two persons, long since dissolved; but One Person, who abides in the Unity of the Godhead and Manhood still.


[Page 40]

But how did John Baptipt know, what was the name of the Being who came on Jesus?  By divine teaching.  The Father who sent him to baptize pointed out the way in which the Deliverer was to be known, and named the Divine Person who was to rest on Jesus, as ‘the Spirit.’  Here then the name proceeds directly from the testimony of God.  See also Isaiah 11: 1 ; 61: 1.



Moreover this doctrine is connected with the Church in John’s day; and since then Jesus, as in this Gospel it is shown, promised to send down the Holy Spirit.  John bore witness that Jesus was to immerse - not in ‘the Christ,’ but in ‘the Spirit.’  Hence He who descended at Pentecost was the [Holy] Spirit.  And the Holy Spirit who dwelt in the Church and rested on its inspired men, as for instance on the Apostle John, testified back concerning the baptism of the Lord Jesus, that it was not the Christ, but the Spirit that came on Him. Therefore, the whole of the Gnostic scheme was false.



A new dispensation, not of earth in its origin, but of the heaven, had begun.  The Holy Ghost descends out of the heavens to bind together heaven and earth; and to knit Christian baptism to Christ’s personal immersion. The name of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, is to be called over every believer, rightly baptized.



Thus, then, the person of Messiah was made known to John Baptist by a better testimony than that which made known to Samuel, Saul as the new king of Israel; or David, as the king after God’s own heart, to the same prophet.  God anointed now, not man; and the anointing oil is not a confection of man’s making, but the Spirit of God Himself.



Thus, too, the Spirit that came on Jesus is identified with the Spirit that afterwards came upon the Church of Christ, and created it.  John foretold this better baptism.  The person who was to immerse in the Holy Spirit was pointed out to him.  And Jesus, ere He departs, promises the descent of the Holy Ghost on the disciples. Moreover, the Holy Spirit at His descent testified, as the Saviour foretold, to [Page 41] Jesus as the Christ; and delighted to honour, not Himself, but the Son.



34. ‘And I saw, and bare witness, that He is the Son of God.’



Thus, in due time, the sign given to the Baptist was fulfilled.  The Dove, ‘the Spirit,’ rested on Jesus.  He was a man; but He was also Son of God.  He was of two natures united in One Person.  John then reveals the testimony of the Father given to Jesus at His baptism.  This is My beloved Son.’  He was the Word made flesh, from His birth; but now the Spirit, another Divine Person, rests upon Him.



35-37.  John repeats his testimony.  The effect of it is to detach from himself two of his disciples, who follow Jesus.  John Baptist was the subordinate, and is content to be so.  He does not seek to recall these two disciples.  Jesus attaches them to Him, opening the way by a question, and an invitation to come and see where He dwells.  They go.  No description of the spot is given, nor of the conversation.  The two disciples are types, I believe, of the Church of Christ, which is to be with Him where He is.  From the hour of their going being specified as the tenth, it would seem that John must reckon by the Roman hours.  For the tenth hour, as usually taken, was four o’clock in the afternoon; and thus the day would be almost spent.  While here it is said, that ‘they spent that day with Him.’  They were with Christ in an unknown spot; for the Son of God was a stranger on earth.  The Saviour graciously begins the intercourse with these timid ones.  So does He receive those who come to Him tremblingly now.  He does not break the bruised reed.



The name of one of the two disciples is given; the other is concealed.  No doubt it was John, who never seeks his own glory.  But from this it appears, that he was one of the first to find Christ.  Hence, also, we learn, why nothing is said of the Apostles’ baptism.  For they were, perhaps without exception, disciples of John.  Only those who accepted John and his message, accepted Christ.  Those who refused John and his baptism, as did the Pharisees and Sadducees, refused Christ also.  [Page 42] Andrew, having seen Christ, seeks to introduce others to Him.  This is a blessed privilege, and a great joy when we succeed.  Andrew begins with his relations, his own brother.  The ties of the new nature are stronger than those of the flesh, He bears his witness to Jesus as the Christ.  Here, then, is another testimony against the Cerinthian error.  Andrew understood, as the result of the Baptist’s testimony, that Jesus was but one person.  He led Simon to Jesus.  Here is a field for every believer: a field for prayer and effort.  How great a joy, when those near to us in the flesh are bound to us by an eternal tie!



Jesus is aware who he is, though He had never seen him before.  He bestows on him a new name, which Paul uses in his Epistle to Galatia (Gal. 2: 9).  This giving a new name was an act of knowledge and of authority on our Lord’s part.  The instances given of the Saviour’s knowledge of men from the first, and of his possession of this power always (2: 24, 25) seem designed to meet an objection against our Lord’s superhuman intelligence, derived from the choice of Judas to be an apostle.  It was thought, that the Saviour could never have chosen such an one, had He been aware that he would prove His betrayer.  But this giving a name was also an act of authority.  To the first man God led the creatures over whom He had made him lord, that he might impose names on them.  Thus, too, great kings gave new names to their servants.



This was a memorable day for John, and accordingly he recollects even the hour at which he met the Lamb of God (44, 45).  Jesus was leaving Judea for Galilee, and calls on Philip to follow Him.  He was of the same town of Galilee, with the two above-named.



45, 46. ‘Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found Him of whom Moses in the law and the prophets wrote - Jesus, the son of Joseph of Nazareth.  Nathanael said to him, “Out of Nazareth can any good thing come?”  Philip saith unto him, “Come and see.”’



Where the Spirit of the Lord is at work, one is added after another to Jesus, by the testimony of the disciples. This is as it should be.  The force of testimony is great, even when given [Page 43] in very simple words.  The Gospel is a report.  And it is easy to raise a report.



We have found.’  After ages of waiting and seeking, lo, the Messiah is come!  We have found!’  We may remember the mathematician’s joyous leap, and shout, and sacrifice of a hundred victims - when he discovered the answer to the difficult problem.  I have found it!  I have found it!’  Here is a better find, better than the gold-seeker’s nugget of one thousand ounces of gold.



Jesus gains three Apostles out of Bethsaida; and yet condemns the city for its unbelief.  It is only a remnant that is saved.



Reports are often false, and will stand no sifting.  But this was true and effectual.  Philip represents Jesus as the person testified of, not by John, but by the writers of the Old Testament.  That was true; as Jesus bore witness to the two going to Emmaus; and to the rest of the disciples after His resurrection (Luke 24.).  This word of Philip’s is important, as destroying the false idea of ‘the men of knowledge,’ - that the prophets of the Old Testament were inspired by the Creator - the God of the Jews - but a Being ignorant of the Father of Christ.



There is gold in this witness of Philip, but dross too. ‘Jesus is the personage of whom the Old Testament speaks.’ True.  The Son of Joseph of Nazareth.’* Not true!  What a mercy that God can use our testimony, despite its defects!


* The better reading.



Nathanael expects, that one so celebrated in Scripture should not come out of a lowly town, not named in Holy Writ.  But that was a part of Messiah’s humiliation.  He would impart glory to Nazareth, though Nazareth gives none to Him.  Probably, also, as the question seems to imply, the character of Nazareth as a town was not good.  And cannot we corroborate it, by the murderous attempt made on our Lord by the inhabitants, when offended at His first discourse in the synagogue?  Philip’s reply is wise.  It is a reiteration of the Lord’s words - ‘Come and see!’  Is it likely that Messiah should come out of so mean a place?’  Do not stand balancing presumptions, [Page 44] for and against a thing, when you may test it directly!  But most are content to take up with the first hearsay.  They have heard a man or a truth spoken against.  That is enough!  They will go no further. Philip was right in believing, that the power of Jesus’ personal interview would soon decide one willing to learn.



Understand, Christian! that the glory of God and the glory of man do not flow in the same channel.  To be wise with God you must be a fool with the world.  God is hiding His wisdom and power now under the semblance of weakness and folly.  He is acting on a hidden wisdom, ordained before the world for our glory.



That is good doctrine which leads to Christ; that is evil which leads away from Him to aught beside.  Here we see the mixture of the gold with stubble in this building of Philip.



Observe the great and solemn difference of result.  John Baptist’s official interview and testimony to the Pharisees and priests, does not lead them to faith in Christ, as the Pro-existent One, far greater than himself. But the few words of John and of his disciples, afterwards avail to gather some to Christ savingly.



48-51. ‘Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and saith of him, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”  Nathanael saith to Him, “Whence knowest thou me?”  Jesus answered and said unto him, “Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig-tree, I saw thee.”  Nathanael answered Him, “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, the King of Israel.”  Jesus answered and said unto him, “Because I said, I saw thee under the fig-tree, believest thou?  Thou shalt see greater things than these.”  And he saith to him, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”’



This scene, the result of Jesus’ ministry set on another footing, gives us an intimation of the remnant of Israel which will arise in the latter day.  These will own Christ in these His two characters and behold His millennial glory.



As I understand verse 48, Philip called to Nathanael without seeing him, only believing him to be somewhere near; and thus broke off his thoughts and his prayers.  Our Lord then notes, [Page 45] that before he was called, and while engaged in the meditation and prayer interrupted by Philip, He was in spirit present, and would let him know, that He heard.  Nathanael believed himself unseen.  So, doubtless, he was unseen by man.  But there is an eye that sees us even in our closet, and an ear that hears.  Would not this bring to Nathanael’s mind the 139th Psalm, 1-3, ‘O Lord, Thou hast searched me out and known me.  Thou knowest my downsitting and my uprising.  Thou understandest my thought afar off.’



Philip had testified of Jesus as Joseph’s Son: but Nathanael has outrun his instructor.  He sees in Joseph’s Son really the Son of God.  ‘The eyes of the Lord are in every place.’  Have you a Nathanael’s fig-tree near your house? a place of retirement to be with God alone?



Here was an indication of the future accomplishment of that word concerning the kingdom (Isa. 56 17-25), ‘Before they   call I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.’



Jesus displays at once His knowledge of the character of Nathanael.  He was a son of Jacob, who by his strong prayer and   wrestling, won the name of Israel.  But he was, unlike Jacob, a man without guile.  Nathanael is surprised to find himself known by one he had never before seen.  Jesus gives a further proof, that He spoke not at random, but as possessed of superhuman knowledge.  He refers to his position in secret before he was led to Christ.  Nathanael was not visible to one much nearer him than Philip was.  He was concealed beneath a fig tree, and Philip saw him not, till he had shouted for him, and so brought him from beneath his covert.  We may guess from the hints given us, what was the subject of Nathanael’s thoughts.  The fig-tree was the representative of the nation of Israel.  Nathanael’s thoughts were engaged with that happy typical reign of Solomon, when each dwelt in safety ‘beneath his own vine and fig-tree. Now this was promised as characteristic of the future millennial Day of Glory (Mic. 4: 1-8).



Nathanael was sighing for that day, praying for it, comparing it [Page 46] sadly with the then state of Israel, enslaved to Rome.  When is Messiah coming?  When His kingdom?  Lord, send Him soon!’  At once Philip calls him to see Messiah, who was to fulfil the Lord’s promises, and the prophetic hopes of Israel.  So by God’s providence, when Gehazi was telling the King of Elisha’s raising the dead, the woman whose son was raised makes her appearance to appeal for her land.  My lord 0 king, this is the woman, and this is her son, whom he restored to life.’  So when Peter is coming to tell Jesus of the demand of the half shekel, the Saviour is the first to ask him, ‘Of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute?’



The reply of our Lord strikes the simple and candid mind of Nathanael at once with overwhelming force.  He is in the presence of Divine Intelligence.  He expresses his faith, ‘Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.’  He gives first utterance to the title which shows his faith in Christ, as possessed of Divine knowledge.  Thou art the Son of God.’ He is indeed a man, a teacher. ‘Rabbi.’  Thou art the King of Israel.’ Here he testifies his belief in the promises to Israel to be accomplished by the Son of David, according to God’s covenant with David.  But why says he not, as did others?- ‘Thou art the Son of David, the King of Israel.’  The Lord has revealed to him a further truth.  This Son of David is Son of God.  Here, then, are the two natures combined in one person.  Jesus owns this confession as true faith.



Thus Nathanael shows himself a believer in the witness of the prophets who testify, that the King of Israel in the millennial day, is to be the Lord Himself (Is. 44: 1-6; Zeph. 3: 13-20).  Nathanael is regarded as one of the remnant of Israel, no doer of iniquity or forger of guile, but one of the spared few in the last days.  Then shall come the days of gladness to Israel, and the Lord shall be his King (15).  Jesus, then, as we suppose, answers his faith in the passages indicated.  He owns the reality of Jewish hopes.  This truth is again confirmed against those who asserted - that Jesus, as the Son of the Unknown Father, despised Judaism and its hopes (Rom. 15: 8).


[Page 47]

In the Second Psalm we have the two views of the Son of God, and King of Israel, united.  In the eighty-ninth Psalm too, we have, on the one side, God’s promises to David and his son, and the contrasted dishonour which overwhelms Israel till the millennial glory bursts out.  The enemies reproach the ‘bruised heels’* of a crucified Messiah (51).  See also Jer. 23: 5, 6.


* It should be rendered – ‘They have reproached the heels of thine Anointed.’



The Saviour, by His words concerning Nathanael’s guilelessness and His beholding him in secret, virtually pointed him to two passages of the Psalms, which speak of such persons as justified. (Ps. 32: 2)  Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.’  Shall we not say also, how strongly in such a view verses 6 and 7 would strike Him: ‘For this shall every one that is godly pray unto Thee in a time when Thou mayest be found: surely in the floods of great waters they shall not come nigh unto him.  Thou art my hiding place; Then shalt preserve me from trouble; Thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance.' But more remarkable still is Psalm thirty-four.  Nathanael has been praying, we suppose, for the millennial day, and its joys (12, He has one of the chief characteristics of those who enjoy it, and is to rejoice (13).  Moreover, Jesus in that case makes Himself the Lord. ‘The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous  I SAW THEE.’  The Saviour shows Himself aware of his prayers, by giving him a new promise of the glory of that kingdom which shall be given into His hand; and a new reference to Moses (Jacob’s dream), which is to be fulfilled in Himself.



Does every reader own in Jesus these two titles?  With most Christians does not the Saviour’s glory as ‘Son of God,’ thrust His glory as ‘King of Israel’?  The latter has been so long in abeyance, they cannot believe it will be fulfilled.  But it must!  NO jot of Moses or the prophets can fail.  The hopes of Israel are recognised by the Lord.  On His head are to be many crowns.  Moses and the prophets knew not of the [Page 48] Church.  It was a secret of the Father’s bosom.  But they testified of Israel; and Jesus died for Israel, and for the blessings of the new covenant, which is to be made with the twelve tribes.



Jesus is ‘King of Israel.’ The twelve tribes are to be subject to His sway (Ez. 37.).  To this referred His choice of twelve apostles.  The throne of David was promised to Jesus by the angel at His birth (Luke 1: 32, 33).  It was made over to Him by the covenant with David (2 Sam. 7: 12-14; 1 Chron. 17.).  It is promised in the prophets (Mic. 5.; Ps. 89.; Jer. 23.).  To this end, the genealogy of Christ as proceeding from the family of David, is given in the Gospels.



Yet the Saviour has never really and in fact been King of Israel.  (1) Jesus, when the multitude wished to make Him King over them, refused (John 6.).  (2) And Israel, and Jerusalem, when Jesus offered Himself as their King, in the manner foretold, refused Him (Matt. 21.).  His claim to be King of Israel, asserted before Pilate, was the immediate cause of His death.  It was the accusation set up over His head on the cross.  His foes challenged Him, while hanging there, to deliver Himself, if He were indeed the King of Israel.  Our Lord refuses to take the Kingdom as David’s Son, till the appointed time, and from His Father’s hand.



The Saviour is pleased with a faith which can rest on a sign so inferior to those which He was prepared to give. Nathanael should see ‘greater things.’  Our Lord applies to Himself and His hearers the dream of Jacob.  He, as the Son of Man, and Son of God, was the true ladder, which in the coming day is to bring into correspondence and harmony heaven and earth, which are now so divided.  Jacob, driven out of his former lot, because of the birthright acquired, and now a stranger and pilgrim, with the earth alone for his bed, and a stone for his bolster, is comforted by a view of the coming millennial day.  Out of Him should spring the Redeemer, who should unite in blessing the earth and the heaven.  Jacob sees the ladder. Nathanael has touched the foot and the top of it, in the two titles which he has assigned to Jesus. ‘King of Israelwas the [Page 49] earthly title, and rehearsed our Lord’s place on earth.  Son of God,’ discovers to us the heavenly title.  The ladder is one.  It is Jesus’ own person; uniting in Himself the natures of earth and of heaven; of man and of God (Eph. 1: 10).  The words of God which follow Jacob’s dream, serve to expound the vision (Gen. 28: 13-15).  The day was coming, when the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, should bestow on the patriarchs and their numerous posterity, the land of promise.  But there is one special heir of all, even Christ. ‘Thy seed, which is Christ.’  Thus the Lord shows He has not forgotten His covenant with the departed patriarchs.  The Saviour has not yet fulfilled His counsel with Israel and his posterity.  He must raise Abraham and the fathers from the dead ere the dream of the patriarch is fulfilled. The heaven was not opened in Moses’ day.  It was shut by Elijah in the days of his prophecy.  But it is to be opened at length in blessing over the King of Israel and the Son of God.



The prophets introduce their visions and commands by ‘thus saith the Lord.’  Jesus, as the Lord of the prophets, speaks in His own name.  Verily, verily,’ etc.  He is the Amen of God, in whom all the promises are ‘Yea and Amen.’



The angels are moving now on God’s messages of good to us.  But the heavens are not opened, and the angels are not seen.  But they will be, when Satan and his angels are cast into the abyss.  Most of the commentators labour to show, that the heaven was or is opened now, and that the angels descend.  But Jesus speaks of it as future.  It depends on His own presence.  It awaits the ladder being set, with its foot on earth, and its top in heaven.  Now the whole ladder is on high.



He who is the man of faith [in God’s millennial promises] now shall see the fulfilment then.  In that blessedness he is to be the contrast to the men of unbelief.  Now, behold if the Lord should make windows in heaven, might this thing be Behold, thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not eat thereof.’  And so it fell out.  The unbelieving lord of Elisha’s day looked only to the utter destrution of the earth, and the weakness of man, when he [Page 50] made that speech.  His hopes wore not in the power of God (2 Kings 7).  He saw the fulfilment, but it was only to vex His eyes and grieve his heart.  So it will be with many.  Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of heaven as a little child, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise enter therein.’



51. ‘The angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’



Here is the evident reference to Gen. 28: 12.  And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and, behold the angles of God ascending and descending upon it.’  The angels of God are no common messengers.  But they are at the beck of this Son of Man in that day, when, according to the eighth Psalm, ‘All things are subjected to His feet.’*  They will come with Him to set up His Kingdom.  He will send them up to heaven on His errands.  They will descend again to Him with replies.  The ladder is ‘the Son of Man.  Nathanael had owned Him ‘Son of God.’  Jesus confesses Himself ‘Son of Man.  He was really flesh born of the flesh of Mary.  But He is more.  He is also ‘very God, Son of very God.’  His person is one - though it combines natures so different.  The Old Testament promises then look onward for their fulfilment to Christ.  They have never been fulfilled yet.  The patriarchs and Christ to whom the land was promised, have never yet enjoyed it.  The Saviour, though Son of David, has never sat upon His Father David’s throne.  All the families of the earth have never yet been blessed in Jacob’s seed, though some are now being gathered out of each family to be with Him, and partakers of the glory.  The heaven has never since that day been opened over the sons of men.  But it must be!  Let us hold fast the hope, founded on the two titles of our Lord here given.


* It was, I believe, Satan’s hatred of this counsel of God, that led him to tempt and ruin man.  This has effected his own perdition.  The counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.’  Slowly, but surely, all shall be fulfilled.



All Christians confess Jesus as Son of God.  It is necessary to Christian faith.  But how few own Him to be also ‘King of Israel!  To such, Israel is a broken vessel, never more to [Page 51] be used.  And Jesus’ kingship over Israel, if they are pressed, would be made to signify His reigning in the hearts of His people!’  But Jesus died to attest, that He is ‘the King of the Jews,’ not ‘the King of the Church.’  He is never so called.  He is ‘Head over all things to the Church, which is His body.’



There is in the title ‘Son of Man,’ a reference to the promised kingdom of Ps. 8. Not to Angels has God subjected the future habitable earth, but only to a Son of Man’ (Heb. 2).  And Christ is that Son of Man.  He is to rule, not Israel alone, but heaven and earth.  To that day points Ps. 148., which celebrates the union of both divisions of the creation under His sceptre, and which notices angels as subjected to Him.



This chapter of our Gospel discovers to us our Lord from three points of view.  1.  As He existed from eternity, 2.  As man at His first coming.  3.  As seen in the coming millennial glory, fulfilling the hopes of Israel, which are attested by Moses and the prophets.



Verses 50 and 51 of this chapter are incapable of any true interpretation by an anti-millenarian.  How do those interpret it, who assume it to be fulfilled in the present day?  Take Alford’s statement. ‘The glories of a period beginning from the opening of our Lord’s public ministry, and at this day not yet completed, are described.  For it is not the outward visible opening of the material heavens, nor ascent and descent of angels in the sight of men which our Lord here announces; but the series of glories which was about to be unfolded in His person and work from that time forward.’  Luther (cited by Lucke 1. 458) boldly says: ‘When Christ became man, and entered on His ministerial office, and began to preach, then was the heaven opened and remains open; and has from that time (since the baptism of Christ in the Jordan) never been shut, and never will be shut although we do not see it with our bodily eyes. … Christ says this: “Ye are now heavenly citizens, and have your citizenship above in the heavenly Jerusalem, and are in communion with the holy [Page 52] angels, who shall without intermission ascend and descend about you.”’



Now this is a flagrant contradiction of Christ’s words.  So much so, that I own I should be very offended with any one who should so contradict me, and so foist in something I never said.



1. Nathanael had believed without sight.  Jesus promises a time of sight.  Ye shall see the heaven opened.’ And the habitation of the angels being opened to sight, the inhabitants of heaven, the angels, shall be objects of sight also.  Moreover, it is not the ascent and descent of angels around, or on, the saved - but on Christ, the visible Son of Man.  None of this then has been accomplished during the Gospel, nor can it be.  (1) For Christ as the visible Son of Man has been concealed in the heavens all the day of Gospel grace, the invisible Holy Spirit having come down to supply to the men of faith the absence of Christ.  (2) The Gospel is the time of walking by faith, not by sight.  And these words promise three objects of sight to men, which during all the Gospel-day will continue concealed - (1) Heaven. (2) Angels. (3) Christ.



Moreover, Jesus was speaking to Nathanael about Jewish and Old Testament hopes; hopes given to the men of the letter, to be literally fulfilled.  The words are attached to the fulfilment of Jacob’s dream; and that refers not to the Gospel, which is a deferring of the hopes of the patriarchs, but to the millennial kingdom of glory.  As truly as Christ and Nathanael’s fig-tree were then objects of sight, so shall these three promised things be objects of sight also.



But let us look into the promise more closely, to see if this was literally accomplished; and we shall observe how utterly unfounded is this interpretation.



1. ‘Hereafter* ye shall see heaven opened.’


* Two uncial copies omit this word, probably because it created a difficulty.  It is to be retained, with the great majority of copies, both uncial and cursive.



Was not that fulfilled at Jesus’ baptism?’ it will be said.



No!  The heaven was not then opened to Jewish disciples in general.  It was opened to John and Jesus only. Besides, this promise of Jesus was made after that baptism was past, and relates, as the words show, to a future day.



But is not heaven open now, and are not we, as priests, welcome to enter the Holiest now?’



Yes, but that is a spiritual access by faith to a heaven not visible.  And this is the promise of a something visible out of an open heaven; and not of our entrance in spirit into an unseen heaven.  It is not true, as Luther says, that heaven is never to be shut.  For three years and a half heaven is closed to Israel and the Gentiles in the coming day of wrath (Rev. 11: 6).



2. ‘Ye shall see the angels of God ascending and descending.’



Some would say – ‘Was not this fulfilled, when the angels after the Saviour’s victory over Satan, came, and ministered to Him?  When, in His agony in the Garden, an angel appeared from heaven strengthening him? When, at the resurrection angels were seen at His tomb attesting His resurrection, and showing to the women where He lay?  Finally, when the Saviour ascended, did not angels appear to the apostles, and assure them of the Saviour’s second advent?’



The observations are quite true; but beside the mark.  These visits of angels were not seen by men; or were not in visible connexion with the Saviour as a man.  (1) The angels in the desert ministered to Christ; but were unseen by men. (2) Beside, that ministry was something already past, and Jesus promises this as a future thing. ‘Hereafter ye shall see.’  (3) The appearance of an angel in Gethsemane was not witnessed, as far as appears, by any disciple.  And Jesus is speaking of His day of glory, and not of the day when the heaven was shut to His prayer.



(4) The appearances of angels at the resurrection were not given to any of the apostles, much less did these angels come from opened heaven.  Nor were the angels then in connexion with visible person of Jesus.  The angels on the day of resurrection showed only the tomb from which He was absent. (5) The [Page 54] appearances at the Ascension do not fulfil this word.  The heaven then was not opened.  A cloud came and shut Christ from their gaze.  The angels were not then ascending and descending on the Son of Man, but they explained the meaning of His absence and promised His return.



It is evident then, that Jesus has carefully distinguished all these things from His promise here.  That has never yet been fulfilled.



1. When then is it to be accomplished?



(1) It has been shown, that the promise cannot be fulfilled in our Gospel days of grace.  For during these times heaven is not visibly open, angels are not objects of sight, and even if they were, it would not avail; for the promise is that they are to move up and down in connection with Christ as their centre, their Master and Governor, executing His errands.



2. When then shall it be accomplished?



(1) In millennial days.  When the Kingdom is, as foretold, to be given into the hands of Christ Jesus, exalted as ‘the Son of Man.’  It is God’s counsel, that the Kingdom, lost by the first Adam, shall be manifested with additional glory in the hand of the second man.  When He is a second time manifested in the habitable earth, all the angels of God are to worship Him (Heb. 1: 6).  He is to come with them when He takes His Kingdom of glory.  They are to be the executioners of His wrath.  This tells us too, that in the days of Christ’s rule over heaven and earth, they are to bring Him tidings, and to be despatched on His errands.  Then they are not only to be seen, but are to be in closest connexion with His person.



Then, too, the heaven is to be opened.  As during the reign of Satan and his False King and Christ, heaven is shut and hell is opened: so during the reign of the true Christ, heaven is opened and hell ([Hades] or the bottomless pit) is shut (Rev. 19: 11; 20: 1-3).  John sees the heaven opened then and the inhabitants of it come forth.  That can only take. place in millennial days.  For after they are over, Jesus gives up His kingdom as the [Page 55] Son of Man, in order that God may be all in all.  And the heavens and earth that are now quite pass away.



Moreover, thus, as we have seen, we bring the matter into closest correspondence with the context.  The thoughts of Nathanael probably turned on the future kingdom.  He was informed that the Son of Man, the great centre of all the promises in Moses and the Prophets, was come.  And our Lord confirms his thoughts.  To Him, as Son of Man, all things, even the angels, shall be subordinate.



Moreover, then we bring in Christ’s recognition of Jewish hopes.  The men of intelligence’ of old, not crediting the Jewish Scriptures, and despising the prophets’ testimonies of a better day to come, through Jehovah’s intervention in miracle, asserted that Jesus despised all the Jewish rites and festivals.  While then the line of things testified by the Holy Spirit in John gave no such prominence to these days and these hopes, as the other Gospels do, the Saviour is yet seen to accept the millennial Jewish hopes, and the promises of their prophets.  And thus we obtain the true solution of that passage of the Old Testament to which these words of the Saviour manifestly point.  They allude, as any impartial eye will see, to Jacob’s dream, which has never yet been fulfilled.  See Gen. 28.



At that time Jacob was a pilgrim and stranger driven out of his land by his fears of Esau.  But that time of his stripping was the time of revealing to him greater blessings than those he had lost: blessings dependent on his Son, or ‘Seed.’



The dream of Jacob’s ladder was designed to discover to us One in whose person heaven and earth - so wide apart, morally and physically -  shall be brought together.  This our Lord shall effect by the union in Him of two natures, one earthly and the other heavenly.  Jesus, as the Son of Man, has a just right on earth; as the Son of God, the heaven also is His righteous abode.  In the [millennial] days of the Son of Man there shall be a visible way of access between heaven and earth.  It is God’s purpose as He has declared, to gather together in Christ, as the One Head, all things (Eph. 1.).


[Page 56]

This dream, too, assures the land of promise to Christ, and to Jacob.  Neither of these has as yet received the prize.  The land belongs to Jacob and to Christ.  Neither has as yet enjoyed the promise.  All nations are to be blessed under Christ in those days.



The final promise supposes resurrection.  Not till then can Jacob possess the land of Palestine.  Neither he, nor Christ, the seed of Jacob, has ever yet enjoyed the land promised them.  Never yet have all the families of the earth been blessed in Christ; nor will they be during the Gospel, though some of each family are being gathered out by the Gospel in order to have part in the resurrection-glory of those days.



These words suppose the restoration of Israel to their own land and to the favour of God.  The promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, embrace also the earthly seed of the patriarchs.  Now during the Gospel the Jews are enemies to Christ and to their own hopes, through unbelief.  Not till they nationally repent of their dire national curse – ‘His blood be on us and on our children’ - can the promises come.  The curse, and not the blessing, rests on the Jew.  This word of Christ supposes their repentance.  Not till their repentance will Christ, as He says, be seen by them (Matt. 23: 39; Zech. 12.).



In short, the whole of the words look onward to the first and blest resurrection.  Not till then, as our Lord argues, will God manifest Himself to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  God is the God of the living; not of the dead.  And the patriarchs are still [in Hades] among the dead.  Not till God has clothed him in immortal and glorious flesh, will Jacob be Jacob again.  Up till that day Jacob is divided, and cannot be pointed out as visible in one place.  Not yet are all traces of the curse and of sin put away.  Nor will they be till resurrection. To that then, and to the thousand years of bliss to be enjoyed by the blessed risen, the words look onward; as we see in Matt. 8: 11; and Luke 13: 28.



Two titles are given by Nathanael to Jesus on this occasion, One an earthly – ‘King of Israel,’ one a heavenly – ‘Son of [Page 57] God.’  So Paul points out to our notice that two heritages await the patriarchs.  The land they are to enjoy is the land they saw, stood on, lay down on; and Jerusalem the earthly will be its centre, the boast of their earthly seed.



But, as He proceeds to say (Heb. 11: 13-16), they looked for an unseen city in heaven, wherein God, well pleased with their confessed position as strangers and pilgrims here, has prepared an abode.



To this day-star, then, are we to turn our eye.  We, too, are and pilgrims on the earth.  The Saviour, when He thus spoke, was also a stranger and pilgrim, without settled possessions or abode.  Let us own Him in both His natures – ‘Son of Man,’ and Son of God; and in all the glories which flow from those natures, and the triumphs achieved in them!  Let us move by faith now into the Holiest, through the ascended Priest, of whom the Holy Ghost bears witness; and let us look for His coming down from the heaven in His power as Resurrection and Life!



*       *       *






[Page 58]

1, 2. ‘And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Now Jesus and His disciples were invited to the marriage.’



We may regard this history from two main points of view.



1. As a refutation of error in regard of the person and doctrine of Jesus.



2. As typical and prophetic.



There were those in John’s day who refused marriage, animal food, and wine, as things evil in themselves. They had false views concerning God and sin.  In their eyes matter was the cause of sin; and to seek to be delivered from it was the highest aim of the wise man.  Hence they were led to imagine, that evil sprang out of the Creator, and was owing to His want of intelligence, or want of power in forming the things we see.  They did not believe in creation properly so called, for they supposed matter to be eternal.  The Holy Spirit, then, in His wisdom, has shown us the Son of God sanctioning marriage, animal food, and wine in this Gospel.  Jesus never was married Himself, but he sanctions it by His presence.  The Holy Spirit warns us, that evil spirits will go forth in the latter day, teaching that marriage is evil; and to be abstained from, in common with animal food and wine, by all who are upright, and who know the truth (1 Tim. 4: 1-6).



The third day’ - that is to be reckoned from Jesus’ reply to Nathanael - and this miracle was the result of the promise that he ‘should see greater things.’  Cana was Nathanael’s own birthplace, and it seems not unlikely this word of our Lord may have led Mary to ask timidly some miraculous aid.


[Page 59]

In this section of our Gospel we have also the truth stated on another point of the utmost moment to us.  Two different currents of error concerning our Lord’s mother, early set in.



1. One party taught, that our Lord took nothing of His mother’s substance.  He was born of her, it was true; but He passed through her, to use their figure, only ‘as water through a pipe.’  His body was not like our body.  It was ‘a heavenly;’ a doctrine taught by some in our day.



The Holy Spirit, then, here owns Mary as the mother of Jesus.



2. But if Mary were really His mother, and the Saviour took a body of her substance, does she not take a stand loftily above all other women?  May she not, by virtue of this her relationship, claim to have all her petitions granted by her Son?  Can Jesus refuse anything to His mother?  Do we not do well, then, to pray to her, rather than to Him?*


* Joseph does not appear.  He was no doubt dead.



Such a course of thought and feeling early arose, and grew in the nominal church; specially after that the worldly entered, in crowds, into the Church under Constantine.  The Holy Spirit foresaw the setting in of this tendency, and early discouraged it in the former Gospels.  Hence we have our Lord’s memorable word, when His mother and His relations sought to cheek His fervour in His work.  For,’ they said, ‘He is beside Himself.’ Some tell our Lord, ‘Behold Thy mother and Thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with Thee.’  Who is my mother? and which are my brethren?  Whosoever shall do the will of My Father who is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother?’  In these words, then, the superiority of Mary over other women, because of her being the mother of our Lord’s human nature, is designedly set aside.  Those who do the will of the Heavenly Father are truly ‘His mother.’  Here, too, the same truth is taught.  The claims of those who would exalt Mary are studiously set aside.


[Page 60]

3.  And when the wine failed, the mother of Jesus saith unto Him, “They have no wine.”  Jesus saith unto her, “What have I to do with thee, woman?  My hour is not yet come.”’



Wine - so suited to the needs of a wedding-feast - failed.  Why are we not told what was the cause of it? Because it was not in the line of the [Holy] Spirit’s counsel.  You or I, reader, had we written an account of this incident, should probably have gone into some detail as to the reason.  But the wisdom of the Spirit of God has left it out.  Scripture is inspired, in what it omits, as well as in what it inserts.



We know only the fact, ‘Wine failed.’  How great a vexation was that to both the bridegroom and bride!  At a time when it were so greatly to be desired for the happiness of the wedded pair, that all should move on smoothly!  See in this incident, that cheeks and trouble must be looked for in wedded life.  But it gives us also a lesson of the most blessed import to all.  Out of this great vexation rightly met arose the chief glory of the wedding of Cana.  Perhaps the occurrence had not been written for us; certainly the glory of Christ, and the enjoyment of the wedded pair and their guests, and the instruction of disciples by millions since, had not been effected, without this mishap.  There is no trouble that befalls us, that, if taken to Christ, may not turn out to be our glory and joy.  The failure was due to human poverty, or ignorance, or poor calculation.  But the supply of that need brought in God; and He more than made up the deficit.  This is true in all cases.  Our greatest troubles, if taken in hand by God, will turn to be our greatest glory.  Israel’s enclosure by the rocks and the sea, with the army of Pharaoh in their rear, wrought in the hand of the Most High for victory.  The smiting of the son of the Sareptan woman, while at first it vexed Elijah - and he was by no means perfect in his feelings or words under the trial - yet is now one of the chief glories that adorn the head of the Prince of the Prophets.  The black cloud brought near to the sun, turns to purple and gold.  Then, reader, be not vexed and anxious, irritated or cast down, by the trials of the way.  Ask your God [Page 61] to take them, and turn them into blessings to yourself and others.



Mary would enlist our Lord to supply the need.  From this it would seem, that her Son had put forth His power in miracle before that day; or at least that He had obtained such marked supplies in answer to prayer, as to lead her to suggest that He would interpose His help then. But the Saviour repels even this indirect appeal of His mother.  He rebukes her interference in this matter.  He calls her ‘woman.  She is not to counsel Him!  God the Father is the one source of direction to Him.  He does not exalt her: He abases her.  That teaches us, then, that it is vain, it is wicked to look to Mary as possessing power over her Son.  It is contrary to Scripture, to suppose, that Jesus ‘cannot deny His mother anything.’  It is unscriptural to call her ‘the mother of God.’  Her true title is ‘the mother of Jesus.’  It is unholy and vain to address prayer to her.  She does not know the prayer, she cannot aid those who idolatrously worship her.  How fearfully this evil practice has grown, many know.  Mary is really the God of Romanists on the Continent.  She is represented as the mother, while Jesus is shown. only as the infant.  And now in some places her image appears alone.  She is the great object of worship!



‘What have I to do with thee?’ is a rebuke addressed to her improper interference.  The like phrase we find in 2 Sam. 1, 6, 9. 10, 19, 21, 22; Luke 4: 34; 8: 28.  It is easy to understand why, in face of such passages as these, Mary-worship could not prosper; and why, therefore, the Scripture must be removed, wherever Romanism would flourish.



Christ does not say ‘mother,’ as she does not say ‘Son.’  He wishes her to learn, that in His Father’s work, the ties of the flesh are not to limit or guide Him.



Jesus intimates, that He would do all in its suited time; and that this must be waited for.  Mary submits to this reproof without a murmur.  She knew her place better than do her worshippers; and she does not venture a word in defence of her supposed rights as a mother.  But Mary has left behind her [Page 62] a word addressed to the servants to whom she turns.  Do whatever my Son tells you!’  She has then no command of her own to give. All merges in her Son.  They therefore most effectually honour Mary who obey Christ.



From this word of hers it would seem natural to suppose that Mary was a relative of the married pair, was entrusted with the arrangements of the feast, and had full control over the servants.  Her words prepare the servants to obey any command of Christ, however strange or startling.  Fill them with water!’ and ‘Draw out now!’ - without doubt were strange words to them.  Water is not wanted, wine is.’  We must not be surprised if God’s way is unlike ours, though the completion of His words shall fully justify it.



Large supplies of water were needed in Jewish houses.  These were used by our Lord on this occasion.  The calculations of the quantity of water found in the six water-pots, vary between sixty and one hundred and twenty gallons.  The Lord makes use of human agency as far as He can.  He could have filled the jars with wine at once.  He prefers to use the servants.  They cannot turn the water into wine.  But they can fill the jars with water.  He commands it, and they do it.  God is pleased to use human instruments.  To be employed by Him is our glory.  To do what we can, and look to Christ to bless it, is our part.  Mother, you cannot convert your child; but you can teach it about Jesus and its relations to God the Saviour.  And then you can ask in much hope, ‘Lord, I have done my little part; I have filled the jar with water.  Do Thou turn it into wine!’



Sunday School teacher – ‘Fill the little vessels each Sunday with the water of God’s truth!  Then look up for the blessing which you cannot give!’



At the Saviour’s word, comes instant change of the water, and its presentation to the president of the feast. Christ upholds authority, even in such a trivial matter as this.  It seems that the water while on the way to the president, was transmuted into wine.  So Jesus says to the ten lepers, ‘Go, show yourselves [Page 63] to the priests.’ And as they in obedience went, they were cleansed.  The president of the feast seems to have been a sort of master of the ceremonies, who arranged the drinking.



The wine was so good as to attract the notice of the president, and to lead him to praise the bridegroom before the guests. It was not common at feasts to reserve the best wine for the last.  On the contrary, the best was usually produced first, and when men had drank so much as to be unable to discriminate, the inferior sort was supplied.  But it was otherwise on this and it redounded to his credit.



The president of the feast made the observation quite impartially; he was not led to do it by a knowledge of its miraculous source.  He took it for granted that it was supplied in the ordinary way.  But if so, may we not say: ‘The wine came on the table in the usual course of things?’  No! there were witnesses of its divine origin in the servants who drew the water.



From the expression ‘who had drawn the water,’ I should conclude that the liquid when first they drew it out of the jar was water, and that it was turned into wine on its passage to the master of the ceremonies. Observe, that our Lord’s sympathies seem to be with those who serve.  They know a secret which is hidden, for a time at least, from the guests.  How quietly, how un-theatrically our Lord’s wonders are wrought!



11. ‘This beginning of signs did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory and His disciples believed on Him.’



This work of Jesus then was one of the signs of His mission given Him by the Father to do, as proof of His being sent by Him.  It was designedly bringing our Lord into comparison with and the prophets.  As to Moses were given signs, in token of the mission to Israel, so also to Jesus.  As the signs of Moses were suited to His errand to Israel, so were those of Christ to His more excellent mission.



Now Moses’ power over the waters was seen in various ways.  When he was sent to Israel’s enemy, he smites the waters of his river, and they become blood, so that the Egyptians cannot drink.  [Page 64] When Israel, on the other hand, in the wilderness come to a bitter water which they cannot drink, the people murmur against him, and Moses knows not how to aid; therefore he calls on the Lord, and Jehovah shows him a tree, which, when it is cast into the waters, makes them sweet.  The bitterness of the desert-well is found, even in the promised land; but the Lord can and does heal.  That then was God’s help in a case of need, appertaining to the necessaries of life.  Also when the prophets arise, sent to uphold the name of Jehovah of Israel against the idols of the nations, we find Elisha healing by some salt the bitter spring of Jericho.



But now has come an era of greater blessing.  Law came by Moses; grace and truth by Jesus Christ.’  John Baptist comes first ‘in the way of righteousness;’ stern and rugged, dwelling in the desert, not living like other men - water his only drink, a Nazarite from his birth.  He was suited to rouse the nation to a sense of their sin. But then grace was sent to visit them in the person of Jesus Christ.  Accordingly our Lord sympathises with all that is good among men.  He will eat their bread, and drink their wine.  He is the bearer of good news, against our desert.  He is found then, not interfering in any combat for Israel against His foes; but at a wedding, helping friends.  He will display greater mercy than Moses.



He turns water into wine.  This, I suppose, is prophetic.  During the Saviour’s absence of two days (or two thousand years) wine is to fail.  The joys of earth are to be smitten.  Even wines shall fail (Is. 24: 11; Jer. 48: 53).  Then, on the third day, when His own marriage is come, shall the Lord interfere in mercy to produce a new supply.  And the best shall come last; unlike the usual course of things, and bearing the token of a divine hand.



The water of six days purification shall end in the wine of millennial joy!



Thus Jesus ‘manifested His glory:’ a very significant word, specially in our day.  First, He does it quite independently: in that unlike Moses.  Moses, both in smiting of the foe, and in [Page 65] the helping of his friends, is dependent.  He is taught what to do.  And what he does is instrumental only.



Jesus acts as one possessed of power and intelligence in full.  He is at no loss.  He gives His orders, as a general directs his soldiers in some well-understood operation of war.



Manifested His glory.’  This is not said of Moses or Elijah, or of any mere man.  They have no proper glory to manifest.  But this is very much in the strain of the passage quoted by John Baptist concerning Christ and himself (Is. 40: 8).  There we read, verse 5And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.’  It is not yet – ‘and all flesh shall see it together.’  But here is its beginning.  And shall we refuse to believe that the word of Joel, (3: 18) in the day of glory shall be literally fulfilled?  The mountains shall drop new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk.’



This making of wine was a manifestation of His glory.  The amount of it was above a hundred gallons probably; and that of the best kind, of good taste, and generous in quality.  Now how is this reconcilable with teetotalism?  Teetotalism claims to be a great discovery; a great plaster for one of the world’s sores, a preparation for the Gospel.  It would put down drunkenness, not by making men temperate, but by entirely putting away wine.  When it has arrived at its full height, it denounces wine as evil.  The wise and good should never [partake] of it.’



But how then does it reconcile its views with Gospel facts and doctrines?  It assumes, that the wine which Jesus made, and which He commends to His disciples to take, is devoid of alcohol, or the intoxicating principle.



But this is begging the question.  It is not granted.  It cannot be proved.  It is against the Scripture facts – the intoxication of Noah, of Lot, and of the Corinthians at the Lord’s Supper.  Intoxication at feasts was not uncommon; as is here observed.  Unfermented grape-juice is not ‘wine,’ it is only syrup.  Syrup takes another name.  It is called in Scripture ‘dibs’ or ‘grape-honey.’  So apt is grape-juice at the ordinary temperature of Palestine to ferment, that it could not be kept [Page 66] from fermenting without especial appliances, such as surrounding it with snow.  It is certain that ordinarily it did ferment, so as to break the skins in which it was put, unless the skins were also new.



Moreover, even if there were ‘non-alcoholic wines,’ Jesus must have distinguished them from ordinary ones; else on teetotal principles, He would be guilty of any disorder that would follow from their use.  Mind, this wine which I have made, is devoid of that evil principle - alcohol.’  And if so, the taster of the feast would never have commended it as good.  It does not require much discrimination to distinguish between wines which may intoxicate, and syrup which is simply sweet.  But such a distinction, while it would have saved the teetotal cause, would have laid itself open to the charge of folly.  Charioteer, why drive so near the perilous edge?  Jesus, Master, enlarge on the glories of simple water!  Teach Thy disciples to turn away from approaching a precipice, over which so many fall and are lost!’



Our Lord made a hundred and twenty gallons of wine, and this was the first ray of His glory!  A teetotaller would have manifested his glory by turning a hundred and twenty gallons of wine into water!  The spirit of the Gospel then is totally opposed to the leaven of teetotalism.  Beware, Christians, of its latest development - Good Templarism!  It will one day openly turn against Christ!



How large a supply of wine was this!  Do we not see in this gift an occasion for the fulfilment of that word of the Psalmist – ‘I was the song of the drunkard?’



Here we touch upon a deep and most momentous question.  In the drunkenness which so prevails, who is in fault? God or man?  (1) If wine be good in itself, to be used in moderation, the fault lies in him who abuses it. (2) If wine be evil, and never to be touched without pollution and mischief, the fault is in God the Creator. Without any preparation on man’s part, grape juice ferments.  Was not God wrong then in putting within man’s reach such a weapon?  Was He not faulty as the God of Israel, [Page 67] in requiring it daily to be used in His sacrifices?  He who prohibits honey and leaven, commands wine!



No; the evil is not in the Creator, but in man; and God means to show the extreme evil that is in man, by the awful results of drink.  God does not intend us by our self-devised manoeuvres to set right a sinful world.








12. ‘After this He went down to Capernaum, He and his mother, and His brethren, and there they continued not many days.’



12.  His mother and brethren.’  In order to glorify Mary, it is asserted, that after the birth of Jesus her first-born, she had no other child.  But there is evidence of weight against this.  On the contrary, Scripture teaches, that she had other children, and great was the surprise of the men of Nazareth to find the Saviour so unlike the rest of His brethren and sisters (Matt. 13: 54-58).



The Passover of the Jews was near.’  At a Passover our Lord’s ministry at Jerusalem began, and at a Passover it ended.  Had Israel accepted our Lord then, the fulfilment of the Passover (in the Jews final deliverance,) and the Kingdom of God would have come.  Now, it is put off till they believe.  It was ‘the passover of the Jews.’ John reckons himself a Jew no longer, but a Christian.



Jesus went up to Jerusalem.’  The present passage shows us clearly how the Saviour felt towards Moses, the prophets, and the hopes of Israel.  This is of immense importance.  For Gentile theorists asserted (and it was the natural result of their speculations), that Jesus Christ, who came down to testify of a God till then unknown, ‘despised Judaism, its observances, and prophetic hopes.’  That false idea is here fully refuted.  Jesus owns fully both Moses and the prophets.



He found the temple in an evil state.  It was really a cattle-market, and money-changers’ exchange.  This justly offended Him, and He at once puts it down.  His interference was a work suited to the Passover feast.  For that was the required [Page 68] putting away of leaven.  The leaven (in its spiritual sense) had penetrated even the temple.  The leaven of covetousness was settled there.  And covetousness is idolatry.  So that while there were none of the old idols wherewith former kings of Israel had visibly defiled it, yet idolatry, in a more specious form, was there.  Jesus would cast it out.  Despite the careful observance of the letter of Moses, the evil thing signified by God had entered into the holiest place of earth.



Jesus made a scourge out of rushes (on which probably the beasts laid down), and drove them all out.  How could one man, and that an unknown person, effect so great a work?  It was a miracle.  These dealers had paid for their standing in the temple, and were therefore warranted by the priests.  How was it they did not refuse to depart?  Why did not the whole of them band together to drive out Him and His disciples?  Who are you? What right have you to interfere?  The chief priests have sold us our standing!  We will not move for you!’  Let anyone try thus to interfere at St. Paul’s!



Jesus speaks with authority: ‘Take these things hence!’ and He is obeyed, though apparently only a peasant of Galilee.  The Saviour showed His glory here.  He is at home, and they are not!  Move hence!



16. ‘Make not My Father’s house a house of traffic.’



Our Lord then puts forth this supernatural agency in the temple in the right of a Son in possession of His Father’s house; and zealous for its perfection.



Are not we to understand hereby, that there is a peculiar holiness attaching to places of worship now?’



No!  There is no material house built by man which God is owning.  The only House of God now is a spiritual house, made up of living stones (1 Peter 2: 5).  Jesus carefully teaches the woman of Samaria, that sanctity has departed from places on earth.



These words are of deepest moment.  Jesus then owns the God of the Jews as His Father.  To most now this is a simple [Page 69] truth which we have never heard questioned.  But it was of the deepest importance in John’s day, for there were those who sought, in their vain reasonings, to separate between the Creator and God of the Jews, on the one hand; and the Father if Christ, on the other.  The Men of Intelligence’ maligned the Creator and hated the God of the Jews, and the sacrificial system of worship in Israel.  They affirmed, therefore, that the Father of Jesus was a God unknown before the Christ came, and that He, as the simply Benevolent, was hostile to the God of Israel; and sent His Son to deliver men from the just God of the Old Testament.



The wisdom of God therefore has caused these words to be written for us, to instruct us in the contrary truth. Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of the Father, the Creator of all things, owns the God of Israel as His Father, and the temple at Jerusalem as His Father’s house.  Then the system of bloody sacrifices in atonement for sin is confessed by God the Father to His own. Jesus came to fulfil and finish that system by His own sacrifice.  In keeping the Passover, our Lord confesses the mission of Moses; yet we never find Him offering up any sacrifice for Himself.  He asserted the same truth concerning the temple when quite young (Luke 2: 42-49). Then He behaved Himself as one who was simply a private Jew, not commissioned to teach and lead Israel.  It is one God who appears alike in Genesis and Revelation!



Jesus cleansed the temple.  He would have the feelings, and words, and noises of buying and selling kept away from the place of worship.  How would worshippers be humbled when coming up to see the house of Jehovah, to find the turmoil of a cattle market, where they hoped for the quietude of adoration!



But, after the present cleansing, the same scene of evil returned.  The thing was too profitable to the sellers, and to the Chief Priests, to be quietly given up.  Hence the Saviour cleanses it again at the close of His career. Then He uses severer language; and yet more fully confirms Jewish and millennial hopes.  He cites the text which tells of the millennial [Page 70] glory of Jerusalem and its temple, ‘My house shall be called the house of prayer for all people,’ Isaiah 56: 7.  That is quite the contrast to our present dispensation - a time in which Israel and the temple are refused.  On the second occasion He calls it ‘a den of robbers.’  By that title it had been designated by the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 7: 2).  Israel had not accepted God’s call, given in that chapter.  How striking are the words of the eleventh verse, in connection with our Lord’s work in the temple, ‘Behold even I have seen it, saith Jehovah.’



Jesus, as still waiting for the people’s repentance, calls the temple ‘My Father’s house’; but at last, when they have fully rejected Him, He calls it on leaving it, ‘Your house’; and it was given over to the enemy’s desolation.  A prophet might have said ‘Our Father’s house’; but Jesus signalises His special glory and relation to God by ‘My Father.’



The destruction of the house, and of the city, would ensue on their unbelief.  God would smite them, as He had smitten Shiloh.  The Lord’s great wrath will, in consequence, rest upon the temple before it is finally glorified. Ezek. 24: 13 refers to this double cleansing, and its ineffectualness.  But after that, it shall be the centre of worship for all nations.  And so the prophets behold it (Isaiah 66.).



Jesus cleanses the temple with a scourge of rushes; but they who will not mind the scourge of rushes will find the heavier one of scorpions.  In the boldness which led one man, and that all but unknown, to set himself against the evil practices of his nation in their stronghold, the disciples saw the fearless energy wherewith Jesus began to imperil his life, and was content to do so.  Where others trembled, He advanced alone and won the day.  But would not the reaction of the great, the priests, the learned, overwhelm him?



17. ‘His disciples remembered that it was written – “Zeal for thine house devoureth me.”’



This action of the Saviour then was foreseen and foretold in the Old Testament.  Where is the passage to be found which [Page 71] struck the disciples as fulfilled on this occasion?  It is found in Psalm 69., which is several times over applied to our Lord in New Testament.  It seems in its opening words to refer to Saviour’s death. Jesus complains of the multitude of those hate Him, 5: 4 (John 15: 25).  He confesses our sins as His own, 5. He had borne reproach for his Father’s sake (Romans 15: 3).  His brethren did not believe on Him; His mother’s own children, 8 (John 7: 5).  Then comes the passage cited here.  I was the song of the drunkards,’ 5: 12, not unlikely refers to the miracle of the wine, last considered.  The drinkers of Israel could easily turn that miracle into an implied complacency in them.  Jesus was a wine-bibber like themselves!’  The Saviour then prays for deliverance from the place of the dead.  He recalls the scene of the crucifixion, 20, 21.  Then comes God’s just requital on Israel, and especially on Judas, 25.  After it, and as the bright sunset of the world’s day, comes the promise of millennial glory to forgiven Judah and Jerusalem, 35, 36.



This incident then of cleansing the temple shows how far was our Lord from despising the Jewish worship and customs.  On the contrary, a self-consuming zeal for all that was His Father’s led Him on against all dangers. But this bold and powerful action produces resistance.  The Jews ask of Him some supernatural sign to prove that He had a right thus to interfere with the temple arrangements.  A prophet might so act, indeed.  But let Him prove his prophetic warrant by some miracle!



19. ‘Jesus answered and said unto them, - “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”’



Our Lord's reply is enigmatical, and was not understood.  They understood him to be speaking of the literal temple, and He was referring to one higher and better.  This is His manner.  So to the Samaritan woman He speaks of a better water, and to His disciples of another food than they thought, and of a deeper sleep on Lazarus’s part than they were prepared for.  This manner of the Saviour is expounded for us - as to its root and [Page 72] principle - in that word – ‘The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit,’ John 3: 8.  This was especially true of Him who was especially born of the Spirit.



The Saviour then foretells - as John, his inspired commentator, teaches us - the Jews’ putting Him to death.  He was speaking of the temple of His body.’  His body was the temple of God; in Him dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead.  The temple of any god is the place of the god’s residence.  Thus John had spoken before. ‘The Word was made flesh, and tabernacled among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.’  Here it was shown.  The bush of the desert was for awhile the tabernacle of Jehovah.  Now, with far greater grace, the Son dwells among men in human form.



Jesus next foretold the sin of Israel, as the occasion of His giving them the sign they asked.  He foresees their guilt.  He beholds its germ and seed in their resisting His cleansing of the temple.  The wickedness which had led them to profane the material structure would lead them on to their destroying the better temple of His body. Then would come judicial destruction of the temple.  And He would not resist their slaying Him.  They might undo the living temple’s wondrous cords and staves.  For He was the Passover-lamb, who had come, as John said, to bear sin.  But when man had done his worst, and had put it beyond the power of nature to re-build the fallen tabernacle of His body, He would put forth His divine power to restore it.  On the third day ‘according to the Scriptures,’ he would restore it.  In these words He silently asserts the power of Deity.  It is God alone who by His power raises the dead.  Jesus, would restore by almighty power the defaced and ruined building of His flesh.



The leaders of Israel, it would seem, did not at first understand the saying; but after His second intimation of the same thing, when He gave gainsayers the sign of the prophet Jonah, with a notice of the same period to intervene before the [Page 73] resurrection, they perceived His meaning.  The Chief Priests and Pharisees, at last, inform Pilate that Jesus had foretold His rising again the third day.



The Jews’ desecration of the literal temple, persisted in after its second cleansing, was a sign of its being destroyed by the righteous indignation of God, as He foretold in the prophets.  But on the third day (that is, after two thousand years), Christ will rebuild it.  For one day is with the Lord as a thousand years.’  The destruction of Christ’s body involved also the destruction of the inferior temple; and Jesus foretold it on more than one occasion (Matt. 22: 7; 24: 2).  Moreover, the two temples were so sympathetically united, that when Jesus died, the literal temple was rocked by an earthquake, and its veil was rent.



And now let us glance at the beautiful significance of this incident in relation to the previous history and economy of Moses.  God had made Aaron his priest: He called him out by the inspired lips of Moses, and had consecrated him by peculiar rites to move in His house.  He had fenced off all others from that post of honour and communion by the threat of death.  But the spirit within us lusts to envy.  Levites sought to equal themselves with Aaron – ‘Were not all the congregation holy?  Why did he exalt himself, as if he were better than others?’  They dared contest the point before Jehovah; and were cut off, with their offending censers in their hand, by fire from God.  But Israel still was restless.  Jehovah then will settle by miracle the question – ‘To whom belongs the Priesthood?’  Let the head of each tribe bring his staff, and write his name upon it.   They do so; and the rods are laid up in the tabernacle of testimony.  On the morrow Moses brings out the staves, and while all the others had remained as they were, the rod of Aaron full of buds, blossoms, and fruit. What meant that?  It was a shadow of death and resurrection!  The rod cut off from the living tree and become dry, was the sign of death.  The rod living again was the figure of resurrection.  After that, people strove no more against the High Priesthood of Aaron. [Page 74] But now, that which was a figure only of resurrection under the Law - for Law cannot give life to man, the sinner - becomes the reality under the Gospel. Human sin is to slay the true Priest; for He is the sacrifice, the Lamb of God, the antitypical passover.  But so great wickedness is to be the occasion of the forth-putting of astonishing grace, and Almighty power.  Out of death shall come forth resurrection.  The temple of our Lord’s body is rebuilt, never to betaken down.  Here we see the proof of a greater High Priest, the ‘High Priest after the order of Melchizedec’ - an eternal [and millennial] order - and a Priest by oath for ever.  Accordingly, Paul, in the Hebrews, puts resurrection and the eternal [and millennial] Priesthood of Christ side by side.  So also Christ glorified not Himself to be made an High Priest; but He that said unto Him, Thou art My Son, to-day have I begotten Thee.’  As He saith also in another place, ‘Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec,’ 5:  5, 6.



Who are priests now? Who are now properly consecrated?  The men who believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection, and who are consecrated by blood and water.  Thus, Paul, by the [Holy] Spirit, describes the new priests, and instructs us in their right to enter now into the Holiest of all of the Temple on high (Heb. 10: 19). They have had their hearts sprinkled with His blood, and have been buried with Christ in baptism, wherein also they have risen again.



The Jews understood not this word of Christ.  A veil was on their heart, which veil is done away only in Christ.  And these were rejecting Him.  Jesus’ act and words were, to them, a great offence.  His words, distorted in an essential point, were brought against Him three years after, as the ground for putting Him to death.  Our Lord calls on them to destroy the temple, and He would rebuild it.  But they allege His words, as though He had said He would destroy the temple.  Hence the strange circumstance, that at the very moment when they were doing what He foretold that they would wickedly do, and which He would not interfere to stop, they shouted against Him, as if He were both a sacrilegious boaster, and a powerless deceiver!  Ah, [Page 75] Thou that destroyest the Temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself!’



22. ‘When, then, He was risen [out] from among the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this; and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus spake.’



John sees in the [first] resurrection the fulfilment of our Lord’s words.  Nothing short of resurrection shall, or can settle all.  Death is the temple’s un-building.  But the spirit- [i.e., the disembodied soul’s] state is not final counsel.  Nor does Jesus so regard it.  The temple shall not be in ruins for ever.  The man, body and soul united, shall triumph over death.  Jesus is Resurrection as well as Life.  Thus Christ is in entire accord with the Scripture.  The Scripture and Jesus’ saying both agree.  The Old Temple and the new, the Saviour’s body of flesh, and His spiritual body the Church, which is now taking the place of the old temple, all come from the counsels of one God.  And Israel [as a redeemed nation], forgiven at last, shall find their desolated house restored, by the [bodily] presence and glory of Christ, to be the centre of a renewed world.



23- 25.  Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, in the feast, many believed on His name, beholding the signs which He used to do.  But Jesus Himself did not trust Himself to them, because He knew all men, and because He had no need that any should testify concerning man; for He Himself knew what was in man.’



It appears probable to me, that great stress of objection was laid by unbelievers of ancient times against John’s doctrine of Jesus’ Godhead, arising out of the fact that Jesus chose Judas to be one of the twelve.  Accordingly, John, in answer hereto, testifies here to Jesus’ divine knowledge of men.  He gives also some striking cases of it; positively, in his interviews with Peter, Nathanael, and Nicodemus; negatively, here; that is, in His not trusting those of Jerusalem who were induced to believe by His miracles.



Jesus did ‘signs’ not a few in Jerusalem.  They were the proofs of His mission.  They answer to Moses’ three signs in Ex. 4: 29-31.  The people of Israel thereupon accepted Moses; and their deliverance at once began.  But Israel, in spite of many more signs, did not receive Jesus.



Our Lord did not trust these believers.  Whence some have concluded that their faith was not real.  But is every one who really believes to the saving of his soul, trustworthy?  Can you rest on him with implicit confidence, as one who will never deceive you, defraud you, never betray you?  Alas, no!  What says Paul? (1 Cor. 6: 8)  Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren.’  Could Jesus implicitly trust the twelve?  Did not they all flee?  Did not Peter curse and swear – ‘I know not the man?’  The same class of persons is named again, in chap. 12: 42, 43.  They believed, without confessing Christ.  Are all who do not confess Christ, lost? Surely not!  They will lose reward, because they owned not Christ before men; they will be [eternally] saved, because they believed. 



*       *       *







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1, 2. ‘Now there was a man of the Pharisees - Nicodemus was his name, ruler of the Jews.  He came to Him (Jesus) by night.’



A specimen is now given us of one of these, and of the Saviour’ knowledge of him.  He was one of the strictest sect, a member the Sanhedrim, a teacher of the law.  But he was afraid openly to confess Christ.  He came, therefore, ‘by night;’ not desiring to lose caste with his friends, the Pharisees, by taking sides openly with a teacher who was voted to be ‘not respectable,’ an ‘itinerant instructor’; one who never joined Himself to the Pharisaic sect, and was never educated in their schools.



2. ‘He said unto Him, “Rabbi, we know that Thou hast come (as) a teacher from God; for none can do these signs which Thou art doing, except God be him.”’



The speech of Nicodemus was candid.  It was going much further than his friends were willing to admit, at least publicly.  The miraculous signs were the proofs of Jesus’ mission as surely as those of Moses.  Nicodemus owns their reality; and the inference thence derivable.  Jesus was a teacher sent by God.  God was on His side.  That was proved by His credentials of miracle.  All that He said was true: but quite insufficient.  Jesus might be all that, and yet no more than Moses or Elijah.  John Baptist was a ‘man sent from God.’  Yet he cannot save us.  God was with Joseph, and with Samuel, yet they cannot deliver us.  But if Christ be nothing more, He can no more save us than the Law or the Prophets.



It is not learning, but life that man needs: not teaching, but a change within.


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3. ‘Jesus answered and said unto him, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be begotten from above* he cannot see the kingdom of God.”’


* This does not in other occurrences signify “again,” but “from above,”  It is indeed a second birth, but by implication only.  With a new life a new birth.



What is the sense of these words?  Much turns on what is meant by ‘the kingdom.’  Does it mean (1) the present state of mystery; or (2) the future one of glory?  It is generally assumed to mean the kingdom in mystery.  I suppose it to intend the [future] kingdom of glory; for which the Jews in general were looking, and of which alone their prophets spoke.  For this view the previous context - (1) Jesus’ reply to Nathanael, (2) His miracle at the marriage, and (3) His purification of God’s temple, have prepared us.



Our Lord is here answering, not Nicodemus’ words, but his spirit.  He is discovering His knowledge of the man, of his good points, of his ignorance, and of his sincerity.  He came, one should judge, to enquire of our Lord about the [millennial] kingdom of glory, and how a man might enter it.



Jesus shows that He did not feel flattered by his words, or by his standing.  It did not move Him, that He was named a Rabbi (or teacher), by a man of such rank.  He has to tell the Pharisee a humbling truth - that he needed a complete and divine change before he could have part in those ‘days of heaven on the earth,’ of which Moses dropped hints, and of which the Prophets of Israel had spoken more clearly.



By ‘the kingdom of God’ is meant - Not the Gospel; nor this dispensation, nor the Church.  Else it would follow, that none could accept the Gospel who is not immersed.  That is not true, in point of fact.  Many do accept the Gospel, belong to the Church, and will be saved, who never were obedient to God’s call of [water] baptism.  If now it should be said, that our Lord’s words in verse 5, mean only ‘that no one ought to enter the church unless immersed,’ I answer - Had that been our Lord’s sentiment, He must needs have worded it differently, and have directed that none be accepted to communion unless immersed.  But Jesus [Page 79] says, ‘The thing is impossible.  None can enter the Kingdom unless born out of water.’



Now it is not impossible, that persons un-immersed should enter the Church.  Thousands have done so.  But in Jesus’ sense, the thing is impossible; for it depends, not on man’s fallible eye and hand; but on the purpose and execution of God, the Infallible Judge, [relative to one’s entrance or exclusion] in a day to come.*


[* NOTE. That is, after the time of Death but before the time of Resurrection, Christ’s judgment will determine who will be “accounted worthy” of the “age” and “Resurrection” to come: Luke 20: 35. cf. Phil. 3: 11; Rev. 20: 4-6.]



To return to verse 3.  Our translation has ‘Except he be born again.’  More strictly, it is – ‘Except he be begotten from above.’  This refers to the regeneration of the Holy Spirit.  Man is the child of Adam, by natural production.  He needs to be a son of God, in order to have part, as one of the risen [or resurrected], in the Kingdom of millennial glory.  Natural birth introduces into the kingdoms of the earth and of men.  Heavenly birth must give us a view of, and entry into, the millennial glory of the first resurrection.



At this point, John touches on the great topic of the first three Gospels.  The Kingdom of God,’ has the same meaning with John that it has in the other Gospels.  But our Evangelist speaks principally of that which they touch upon but little, - ‘eternal life,’ - the result of simple faith, and the gift of God to His elect in Christ.



4. ‘Nicodemus saith to Him – “How can a man be begotten when old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be begotten?”’



The Pharisee thus implies the foolishness of our Lord’s words.  The thing was naturally impossible.  What could He mean?’



5. ‘Jesus answered – “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be begotten (born) out of water and wind, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.”’



Here the Saviour divides into two parts that which at first He expressed un-dividedly.  And He asserts His doctrine as strongly as before.



At this point we have to wrestle first against false views, before propounding the true.



What is the meaning then of being ‘born out of water and [Page 80] wind?’*  Some would tell us – ‘Water and the Spirit only mean one thing.  They signify the soul’s cleansing by the Word of God, the instrument of the Holy Spirit.’


* Wind is the word used by our Lord.  The Saviour put the sentiment, on purpose, in a mysterious way.



It is not so. ‘Water and the wind’ do not mean the same thing as the water alone.  A second point is added in verse 5 to the Saviour’s announcement in verse 3.  This is proved by an addition on both sides of the equation. At first Jesus says, that ‘Regeneration by the [Holy] Spirit is absolutely necessary in order to see the Kingdom.’  Nicodemus denies the possibility of a second birth.  Then Jesus partly explains Himself.  He adds to the birth of the Spirit - the birth out of water.  The result is a stronger statement, on the other side, of the result of such birth.  Except a man be born out of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.’ That is, the birth of water added on the one side, introduces the entry into the kingdom, on the other. Here then is the proof, that this second sentiment means more than the first.  A new weight is put into each scale.



This truth is seen more evidently still, when we translate in verse eight, the Greek word for ‘Spirit’ by the same English word.  Our translators give it there its usual meaning, and we have – ‘The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof.’  Now though Jesus meant the Spirit,’ he said the wind.’  He was designedly speaking to Nicodemus in a mysterious manner, abasing the pretensions of the Jewish teacher.



Render the fifth verse in the same way as in the eighth, and the absurdity of the proposed explanation appears.Except a man be begotten out of water and wind, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.’  Is ‘windthe same thing as ‘water?’



Our Lord is here touching on the analogy between the first birth and the second.  A man has two parents: and Jesus notes that the wind - the Spirit of God - takes the place of the father, and the water the place of the mother.  To affirm that only one object is intended by the two, destroys the intended analogy.



Again, ‘water’ does not mean ‘the Word of God.’  The [Page 81] passage (Eph. 5: 26), to which appeal is commonly made, does not prove it, as has been shown in the tract, ‘The Bride’s Bath.’  There are three witnesses which God has raised up to His Son – ‘The Spirit, the Water, and the Blood.’  If the water means only the Spirit, there are not Three witnesses; but only two.  The same argument, with some little modification, applies also to that comment which would make the water signify the Word of God.  That would be virtually identifying it with the Holy Ghost.  For the Holy Ghost saves the soul by means of the Word of God.



The water then, we affirm, is literal water.  This is proved - (1) By a first-principle of interpretation.  Every word is to taken literally in the first instance.  It is only in case of absurdity following, that we may resort to figurative interpretation.  But the taking ‘water’ literally here gives not only a good sense, but the very best.



(2) Thus we are brought into contact and agreement with other three Gospels.  John Baptist preceded our Lord in teaching the coming [Millennial] Kingdom of God, and in requiring repentance as the preparation for it. ‘Repentance’ in John’s teaching answers to ‘regeneration’ in our Lord’s words here.  Moreover, those who accepted John’s mission were immersed in water.  That answers to our Lord’s requirement here of the birth out of water.  As baptism [in water] then in the three first Gospels, was the proof of a man’s acceptance of God’s message, and the token of a desire to enter into the future kingdom of glory, so it is here.



There is indeed this difference, John taught Israel the kingdom, as related to human responsibility.  Jesus here speaks of what is requisite to enter it, from the side of the Divine Sovereignty.  But water, considered as the element in which man’s obedience to God’s call is signified, is the same in both.



(3) Water is literally taken in both the preceding and following context in John, and refers to immersion.



Why immerseth thou then?’ said the Pharisees to John Baptist.  John answered them – “I indeed immerse in water.”’


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This was the reply given in Bethany, the scene where John was immersing.  Again – ‘in order that Jesus should be made manifest unto Israel, therefore am I come immersing in water,’ 1: 25, 26, 31.  He that sent me to immerse in water (literal here, is it not)? the same said unto me, etc.’



These words of our Lord then are most pertinent to convince Nicodemus of error and sin.  Jesus does in effect say – ‘There is a birth which is possible to a man even when old, a birth out of the womb of the waters.  It is a birth which God commanded to all those who wish to enter the millennial Kingdom of glory.’  And this was of especial force.  Had Nicodemus accepted John’s testimony, or that of Jesus concerning the Kingdom, he would have been so born out of water, and would not have rested on the supposed impossibility of a second birth when old.  But Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and the Pharisees refused John’s message and rite (Luke 7: 28-30).  Thus rejecting God’s previous word, he stumbles at a further one.  He that hath, to him shall be given.’ To the single eye shall be abundance of light.  But here was not the single eye, and in this case therefore the man stumbles.  John was to manifest the Saviour to Israel, by immersing in water.  He then who refused that message and immersion, does not see in Jesus the Saviour and Son of God, [and Israel’s coming Messiah] but a ‘teacher’ only.



The succeeding context also speaks of water literally, and in connexion with immersion, ‘Jesus, and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He tarried with them, and immersed.’  This then is of prime moment on the question.  Not only did John Baptist immerse in water, Jesus did so also.*  Here, therefore, is a reply to the objection, - ‘Jesus could not be referring to Christian baptism, for it was not yet instituted.’  We answer, Baptism [in water] is here seen to be Christian; for it is taught and carried out by Jesus and His disciples.  It was required of Israel before Jesus’ death and resurrection; although, after the Jews’ refusal of Christ, the command took a wider opening to the Gentiles.


* I do not mean that He did so personally, of course (John 4: 1, 2).


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John also was immersing in Enon, near to Salim, because there was much water there; and they came and were immersed,’ John 3: 23.  Here then again water is literal, and it is in connexion with the rite of immersion.



4. Moreover, after the descent of the Holy Ghost, and the teaching of the Kingdom of God, we find the same immersion in water for those who believed (Acts 8: 12).



5. When again, Paul. speaks of renewal by the Holy Ghost, he adds to it a notice of baptism (Tit. 3: 5). ‘According to His mercy He saved us by the bath of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Ghost.’



But it is not only the literality of the water which is in favour of this view, but the striking agreement with the figure of birth which is found in that immersion which God has commanded to follow immediately upon the reception of the doctrine of the future Kingdom of glory.   The rite of immersion explains in clearest way our Lord’s allusions here.  The burial under waters attests death.  The coming forth out of the waters is birth.   Thus we have in our Lord’s words, first the Holy Spirit’s secret imparting of new life to the soul, as the mysterious and invisible wind.  The Spirit takes the place of the father; the water, the place of the mother, out of whose womb the child of God visibly comes forth.  Thus there is first new life, then new birth.  It is a visible testimony given by the renewed man both to the world, and to the Church.  Once was I dead; now I am alive to God.  I wish to confess my change.’  In the Epistles, generally stands exhibited as attached to Christ’s work for us; and therefore it is presented as related to the Saviour’s death and resurrection.  But here our Lord connects it with the [Holy] Spirit’s work in us; and then it appears as death to the old nature; birth to the new and divine.



A child springs from both his parents; a Greek would say ‘out of.’  This word especially applies to the mother. Now our Lord was speaking of the birth of men to God.  Nicodemus objects, and starts a supposed impossibility with regard to the mother’s part in human birth.  Jesus then explains.  He gives [Page 84] the analogies which connect man’s spiritual birth with his natural.  There are two factors in it.  The Holy Ghost’s power communicates secretly [spiritual] life to the soul of man.  But the Most High has arranged that there shall be a visible part in man’s [eternal] salvation and renewal.  He has appointed water to take the mother’s place.  Out of it the [obedient] child of God is to be born.  But water does not actively communicate life spiritual.  Birth does not produce life, but only manifests it.  The water is only a passive element.  The Holy Ghost then is really the spiritual father of each son of God; the water of baptism is - figuratively and emblematically only - his mother, out of whom he is born.



But it may be said, ‘So taken, this passage teaches baptismal regeneration; for here the water appears first, as though it were the cause of spiritual life.’



We answer, It is not true!  The Spirit’s regeneration is spoken of first and alone.’  Verse 8 precedes verse 5; and in verse 3, you have the Spirit’s agency alone named.  It is only when Nicodemus refused Christ’s word as impossible, that the Saviour introduces the birth out of water.  And in verse 5, the ‘water’ precedes the Spirit (or wind), because in the water lay the proof of the possibility of a new birth; and it attested the truth to the senses of even the unconverted.  For God speaks in His ordinances by signs.  He tells of inward and invisible realities by outward tokens.  To apply those tokens where there is the reality, is good, and according to Christ’s mind.  But to give the sign where there is not the reality, is a lie; and it works immense mischief.  To set the sign of new birth and new life where there is confessedly only the old flesh lying under the death of nature, is a lie.  And it draws on this further falsehood: it leads men to imagine, that water sprinkled, or poured on the head, gives new life, and a divine nature.  Thus thousands perish, trusting they are the children of God, because an unwarranted ceremony has been performed on them.  Thus ministers who sprinkle infants are led to believe, that by the ceremony which they perform, life spiritual is communicated to the child; and they assert, that thus a son of Adam becomes [Page 85] a son of God.  This is not only contrary to the order of God but a full and manifest contradiction to the Scripture.  For the Saviour is here asserting to Nicodemus the sovereign action of the Divine Agent in regeneration.  It is the [Holy] Spirit of God, who regenerates, and He is as little capable of being subjected to man’s will as the wind.  But baptismal regenerationists teach, that it is the water - an element within man’s control - to which the Spirit is necessarily attached; so that whomsoever they sprinkle, the Holy Ghost must renew.  Here, then, is manifest contradiction.  Whom shall I believe?



6. ‘That which is begotten of the flesh is flesh, and that which is begotten of the Spirit (wind) is spirit (wind).’



John, in this narrative, is combating ideas then taught, that the acceptance or refusal of the Saviour’s teaching was due to tendencies at birth (Iren. p. 81 and 90 ; Hippol. 290).  Thus divine regeneration was identified by theorists with differences in the flesh.  Against this error, John (in the opening of his Gospel) asserts the refusal of Christ by the world at large, and especially by His own people of Israel.  That which made some the sons of God, sprang not out of any excellence derived from birth, but from faith on man’s part ; and primarily from the divine operation of the Holy Ghost, without which the saved would have continued in unbelief.  That sentiment of John’s Preface (1: 12, 13), is here proved to be sustained by the words of our Lord Himself.



There was no greater natural disposition in Nicodemus to accept Christ, than in any other son of Abraham, or son of Adam.



Our Lord next discovers to Nicodemus the folly of his speech.  Even if it were possible for a man to be born again after the fashion he indicated, it would avail him nothing.  The steam cannot rise above its fountain; and therefore this second birth of the flesh would still leave a man ‘flesh’ only, possessed [only] of fallen human nature, unfit for the kingdom of glory.  This truth was shown at once on Adam’s fall.  Adam was created in [Page 86] the image of God.  But, after his sin, he begat a son after His own image.  And the character of that nature so fallen is described in few and terrible words just before the judgment of God fell on it – ‘Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.’  The New Testament confirms this, describing the works of the flesh as only evil (Gal. 5: 19-21).



In this principle we find uncovered to us the reason why all previous dispensations of God, and all His trials of men, whether individuals or nations, ended in failures.  There was a deep-seated inward cause, which was not removed by all these outward means.  Man is slow to believe that every creature, and much more each fallen creature, is prone to evil, and without strength for good.  Therefore, God took the best of the nations, the seed of Abraham His friend, and put them to the proof for two thousand years; manifesting to us by their wilfulness, disobedience, idolatry, and all other forms of evil, how totally corrupt is the fallen nature of man.  Israel, brought nearer to God than other nations, bound to Him by covenant, surrounded by His benefits and privileges, sinned more than the Gentiles.



Herein lies the reason of the repeal of the old dispensation of Moses.  It was the trial of the flesh.  It was designed to prove to men’s slow hearts how deep the mischief entailed by the fall, how incurable by any moral outward means.  The flesh then is now set aside, as profiting nought.  To be a son of Abraham after the flesh is nothing now.  And the children of the flesh are not the children of God,’ Rom. 9: 8.



Hence God does not accept the baptism (sprinkling) of infants.  For they are yet only children of the flesh, not sons of God begotten of the Spirit, and believing on the Son of God.  The children of the believer and of the unbeliever occupy the same spiritual level before God.  Both are only flesh born of the flesh.  And in the flesh ‘dwells no good thing.’  They that are in the flesh cannot please God, Rom. 8: 8.  The flesh’ here signifies the whole man, such as he is when he becomes a subject of one of the kingdoms of the world.  This too is the reason why the kingdoms of men must be put down by Christ.  They [Page 87] are composed - both rulers and subjects - of fallen flesh alone.  They are now under a trial, which will end in their corporate rejection of Christ.  Then the Most High will supersede them by the Kingdom of God, in which the rulers will be renewed men, begotten of the Spirit, born also out of the tomb, like Christ Himself; and their subjects in that day will be persons in flesh and blood, but in general, men renewed by the Holy Spirit.



It should be observed, that after the fifth verse, Jesus in His conversation with Nicodemus speaks no more of ‘water.’  He does not say – ‘That which is born out of the water is water.’  He notes only the ‘flesh’ and ‘the Spirit’ (‘the wind’). The first generation is of the flesh; the second, which communicates spiritual life, is effected by the Spirit of God.  The birth out of water comes in after spiritual life has been bestowed, to exhibit the new nature.



It requires a higher being than man to impart His holy nature.  He only is a son of God who has been begotten by the Spirit of God.  The begotten by the Spirit is spirit.  This divine life granted by grace dies not; but though thwarted and checked by the old nature and by the world, will continue for ever.



How strange to the men of the apostles’ days was the change of Saul, the persecutor, into Paul the apostle! How came it to pass that the hater of Jesus the Nazarite, who slew His people, and cursed and blasphemed Jesus, the stout upholder of the old of Judaism, and of the traditions of the fathers, at length renounced it, giving up all his hopes from this world to become not only a follower of Christ, but a preacher of His Gospel?  How came it that he was found enduring suffering and daring death every day, if only he might preach the faith which once he destroyed?  Whence came this startling change? This transforming of the wolf into the dove? We say – ‘Here is an example of the birth from above; of the being begotten of the Spirit of God, and being born out of the water’ (Acts 9: 18; 16).  Thenceforward earth and its toys faded; he lived for the heavenly things.


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Reader, are you so begotton of God?



Are you begotten of God, yet not as yet born out of water?  If so, there is a command given by Christ, to which it becomes you to bow.



7-8. ‘Wonder not, that I said to you - “Ye must be begotten from above.  The wind blows where it wills, and thou hearest the voice thereof, but knowest not whence it cometh and whither it goeth; so is every one that is begotten by the Spirit (wind).”’



The words of our Lord astonished Nicodemus, yet he might have been prepared for them; had he duly received all the statements of the Old Testament bearing on this, he would have found our Lord’s words by no means incredible.



1. But this statement shocked his Jewish pride.  What! a Jew, a Pharisee, a learned man, a leader and teacher of his nation, require in his old age of wisdom to begin again!  As if the heathen and the publican were as good as he!



2. To need this new birth too, in order to have any part in the millennial Kingdom of Messiah, which the Jews were anticipating and regarding as their own by right of birth!  Were they not sons of Abraham?  Were not the promises theirs?



3. Begotten from above!  How was that possible?  Jesus applies to the men of Israel, and to Nicodemus, this great and humbling truth; ‘I said to thee - Ye must be begotten again.”’



That ye’ is emphatic, and very significant, as excluding the Saviour from the necessity of such a birth, while it includes all others.  Christ needed no second birth, in order to become the Son of God.  He says, not therefore, ‘We must be born again,’ but ‘ye.’  He had no fallen nature to put off.



When the Spirit came on Jesus at the Jordan it was not to renew Him, but to bestow power.  The Father testifies to Him in the past, as showing Him to be altogether approved in His sight, and needing no renewal, when He says, ‘This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’



He, therefore, distinguishes between Himself and the sons of men, yea, even the sons of Abraham.  Nor on this occasion alone - See chap. 7: 14, 15, 23, 24.


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In making this distinction, He is unlike His Apostles.  They put themselves in this respect on the same level with those whom they address.  Among whom (the dead in sin) we all had our conduct in time past, in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others,’ Eph. 2: 3.  For we ourselves j were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another,’ Tit. 3: 3.  And then Paul ascribes the change in the elect as due to the working of God’s Spirit.  This difference then in standing, and result, is due to a different nature possessed by Jesus.  It is the object of this Gospel to exhibit the Saviour as standing loftily above the sons of men.



Though regeneration is needed for the kingdom of glory, yet work of the Spirit is something that cannot be controlled by man.



The natural wind is something in whose existence we believe, for we hear it while we cannot see it.  Its motions are to us a mystery.  Whence it starts, and whither it journeys, none knows, even in this day of the close study of nature.  Science can suggest some general ideas about its wider movements; but why to-day the wind is blowing South-West, and to-morrow North-East; why to-day there is a hurricane, and yesterday not a breath was stirring, we cannot tell.



These words of Jesus then set forth salvation in its sovereignty as proceeding from the will of God, who gives no account of His matters.  Yet this sovereign action of the [Holy] Spirit is that side of the gospel which is oftenest presented by gospel preaching when seeking to draw men to God.  And the issue is oft very perplexing both to the speaker and to the hearers who are wrought on by it.  How can I call on any to be converted, when the power of conversion depends not on their will, but on the Spirit’s?’  So on the hearer’s side, likewise – ‘I wish “to be converted,” but the very phrase – “to be converted” - shows that I am passive in the matter.  Show me something in the affair of salvation in which I can be active, and I am ready to move.  But conversion, [Page 90] as you tell me, is something mysterious in its origin, and beyond my control.  The Spirit blows where He wills,” not where I will.



To meet this objection there often arises a lowering of the Gospel-call, as if it was not required of the sinner to turn at once to God, but to wait in the way of attendance on the means of grace, till the sovereign time of God’s good pleasure is come.  But no such sentiment occurs in the Acts.  Apostles urge men at once to believe, and to accept the good news.  They do not regard them as persons who could only wait, till God’s time for their renewal was [to] come.  They never urge them to wait.  They say, ‘Repent! Repent, and be baptized.’  God commandeth all men everywhere to repent,’ Acts 17: 30; 26: 19, 20.  And ordinarily then, hearers turned that very day to God, and were baptized at once.



What is the reason of this?



Because the Gospel has another side, and one quite open to all the sons of men.  And that attaches to the work of Jesus Christ.  This, the closed and sovereign side, turns on the work, the mysterious and unconditional work of the Holy Ghost.  The work of Christ is His dying for the sin of the world, and His exaltation to the right hand of God, on purpose to grant salvation to all who will seek it.



Hence, when the multitude at Pentecost listen to the Gospel for the first time, they find it to be a testimony about the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Conscience accuses them of their sin against the Son of God, and they cry out - ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’  The answer is not - You cannot be saved, save by the sovereign work of the Holy Ghost, for which you must wait God’s time; and perhaps after all your waiting, you are to perish as being not one of His elect’  But it is – ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, unto (the reception of) the forgiveness of sins.’  On the next occasion, Peter says- ‘Repent, and turn ye [not passive voice] that your sins may be blotted out.’  To Saul, Ananias, Christ’s Messenger presents the work of Jesus, and the forgiveness of sin (22: 16).


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So Paul at Antioch, of Pisidia, says – ‘Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins. And in Him all that believe are justified from all things,’ Acts 13: 38, 39.



Why then’ - it may be said – ‘did Jesus present this truth at the very first to Nicodemus?’



And the answer is not difficult.  It was to humble the pride of this ruler of Israel, to discover to him his ignorance, and his powerlessness.  This statement was not the Gospel (1 Cor. 15: 1-4); it was designed to pave the way for the Gospel.  It was to show that the Jew was not spiritually nearer to God than the Gentile.  But observe, while our Lord begins with this truth, which is as the ploughshare designed to upturn the fallow ground, He ceases not, till He has set before Nicodemus the sufferings and death of the Son of God; which is the Gospel.  He sends not His hearer away till He has opened to him salvation, as free, to all the perishing sons of men; till He has declared that the work of Moses in lifting up the brazen serpent for all the bitten of Israel, that whosoever would, might look, and live, was just like the Gospel of God’s present grace in saving men.  It is the call of the Most High to a dying world – ‘Whosoever will, let him look and live!’



8. ‘So is every one that is begotten of the Spirit.’



It seems to me, that these words have two main references -



1. Primarily in regard of the persons renewed.  Why this man is regenerated, and those are left still in the blindness and unbelief of nature, is a mystery not to be fathomed.  It discovers an Agent whom man can no more control than he can the motions of the wind.  It turns upon the Almighty inscrutable will of a Divine Person.  Here is the Agency of One stronger than man, whose movements the sons of men cannot regulate, cannot calculate on.  Here is a generation not dependent on the will of man - a birth not of the flesh.



2. Secondly, in respect of the qualities and words of those so begotten of the Spirit.  They take after their heavenly Parent.  As the Holy Ghost, that real and Almighty Agent, is inscrutable and [Page 92] mysterious, so mysterious, so difficult of comprehension by the men of the flesh, are the words and acts of those begotten of the Spirit.  Worldly men hear new principles announced by them, they see new deeds, and find a new style of sentiment and conversation, such as never appeared before in the man.  Yes!  He is a ‘new creature.’



3. Now if this be true in a lower degree of men, when born again of the Holy Spirit, it was true in the fullest sense of Christ Himself.  He was not born of the Spirit, in the sense of being regenerate, as the saved now are; but He was begotten by the Holy Spirit of Mary.  To Him, then, the same truth applies in fullest measure.  Did Nicodemus find His words mysterious?  Were His actions often so?  Do we find it difficult - even we the renewed sons of God - to comprehend some of the words of Jesus?  This is because, He in a sense peculiar to Himself, was born of the Spirit.  His words, therefore (and specially those given in this Gospel), and His acts are often mysterious.  Not only was Jesus born of the Spirit; but the Spirit, master of all the secrets of God, came upon Him at His baptism.  Thus the thoughts of God have been translated into the words of men.  What wonder if in them we find depth and mystery?



Nicodemus still objects – ‘How is it possible for these things to take place?’*


* [See Greek word …]



Jesus reproves him now for his ignorance.  As a teacher of Israel, he might have learned the necessity of regeneration, in order to the kingdom, from such passages as Ezek. 11: 17-19.  Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord God; I will even gather you from the people, and assemble you out of the countries where ye have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.  And they shall come thither, and they shall take away all the detestable things thereof and all the abominations thereof from thence.  And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new Spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh.’  Also in 36: 24-28.  He might have learned, also, something about the mode, [Page 93] in such a passage as Is. 1: 16, 17, ‘Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.’  The creation [renewal or restoration]-birth of the world took place out of wind and water (Gen. 1: 2) ‘And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.  And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.’  When Israel was to be consecrated to God as His peculiar nation, it passed through water and wind into the desert.  And in the passage through the Red Sea we have a type of baptism, as the New Testament informs us (1 Cor. 10.).  We too have need to be humbled, that we know so little of the mind of God, in spite of the Word He has given us.  But there is no entering into the depths of its meaning, without the [Holy] Spirit’s enlightenment.



The Saviour also assumes, that teachers have more need of light than others, specially on fundamental points.



11. ‘Verily, verily, I say unto thee, that we speak what we know, and testify what we have seen, and ye receive not our testimony.’



Our Lord now insists on the acceptance which is due to His testimony, and the grounds of such acceptance. Nicodemus had confessed Him a teacher; He now begins to teach concerning Himself and His work.



Nicodemus had said – ‘We know.’  Jesus answers with a stronger – ‘We know.’  Why does our Lord use the plural?  Opinions are divided.  But I see no reason for doubting that Jesus refers to the witnessing of Himself and John Baptist.  In the opening of the Gospel, John is presented to us as the witness sent of God.  He bore witness. ‘I saw the Spirit descending out of heaven like a dove, and it abode on Him.’  God gave him this as the signal of the person, who was by his means to be manifested to Israel.  And I saw and bare witness that He is the Son of God’ (1: 32-34).  As the Law required two or three witnesses, John Baptist and Jesus fulfilled the Law’s demand.  John then witnessed to what he knew, and testified of what he [Page 94] saw, calling Jesus the Son of God, and declaring that He spoke as the comer from heaven (3: 31-36).  Yet the Saviour had to declare, as John Baptist also did, ‘What He hath seen and heard that He testifieth, and none receiveth His testimony.’



The Rabbis were doubtful teachers, using the authority of this man, and of that for their sayings, and finding oft Hillel opposed to Shammai, and Jonathan to Meir.  Christ requires acceptance of His words as certain truth, resulting from the testimony of an eye-witness.  This boldness and confidence of teaching startled the multitudes.  Jesus dared to set His authority against the words of Moses himself (Matt. 7: 28, 29).



Probably Nicodemus thought he had gone a long way in Jesus’ favour, by confessing Him a teacher sent from God; but he has to learn, that that is so far short of the full truth and of the testimony of God, that it passes for unbelief.  The Lord Jesus accuses of unbelief, not Nicodemus alone, but those in whose name Nicodemus had spoken.  Jesus says, ‘I say to thee,’ – ‘Ye receive not our testimony.’  None accepts Jesus as a teacher, who does not own His deity.



12.If I told you of the earthly things, and ye, believe not, how will ye believe if I tell you of the heavenly things?’



The Son of God had been speaking of the earthly department of the kingdom of God; of that part of it with which the prophets of the Old Testament were engaged, and which was the most easy to be understood, as conversant with the arrangements of Israel and the earth.



But there was another department of it - the heavenly; and the counsels of God about it were more alien from the thoughts of Israel.  For it treated of Messiah as not a single individual, but as the head of a body of persons, taken alike out of Jew and Gentile, moulded together by the Spirit sent down from heaven, hereafter to dwell in the heavenly glory of Christ.  This great truth was the turning point of Saul’s heart at his conversion, and it formed the keystone of his testimony.  Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou ME?’


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Thus Jesus confirms His previous hint about the millennial glory, as being the union of heaven and earth in Himself.  Accordingly the unbelief of Israel became more and more marked, as the Saviour told them of the heavenly things.  How Israel resisted the truth of their sin, and of a new body being gathered out superior to themselves!



Hence too we learn, that faith is the reception of a testimony.  John and Jesus bore witness: but their united testimony was refused: to receive it would have been faith.



13. ‘And none hath ascended into heaven, but He that came down out of the heaven, the Son of Man, who is in the heaven.’



But how can the heavenly things be known by men on earth?  By eye and ear witness!  The Saviour now drops the previous plural, and speaks of Himself alone as fulfilling these conditions.  This confirms then our previous interpretation of the plural, as referring to John and Himself.  His speaking first of the ascent into heaven before the descent - as indeed the whole verse - is full of mystery.  No doubt it refers to Christ, as descending out of the heaven to become the incarnate ‘Son of Man.’  He was also to ascend to heaven.  But why is the ascent put first?  I cannot say.  As He came down out of the heaven to become the Son of Man, so He existed before He appeared as man.



But if He was then residing on the earth as the Son of Man, how was He also up in the heaven?’  Again, we are dealing with things too high for us.  But we see the perfect unity of the person of Jesus Christ.  He was not two persons; one of whom was a man, the son of Mary, who never came clown out of the heaven, and was not then in heaven; while the other was a Divine Being, who came to rest for awhile on the Son of Man; by no means to be lifted up under the curse for the endurance of death, as verses 14-16 teach.



Here then the greatness of our salvation gleams out.  Israel expected in Messiah a mere man, though He might be a mighty warrior, and a great King.  But Messiah is in origin more than man; and He is to be mighty in suffering beyond the sons of [Page 96] men; while He will one day be manifested as the Lord of Hosts, the Man of War, the Prince of the Kings of earth.



May it not be rendered – ‘The Son of Man who was in heaven?’  It is natural to take it so.  But here the Mysterious Master of the wind is speaking in mystery.  Perhaps it may lend some little light, if we set this sentiment beside one with which we are familiar.  Of ourselves as believers down upon the earth, it is said, that we are nevertheless ‘seated with Christ in the heavenly places.’  But these testimonies which touch on the mode of existence of the Godhead, transcend us.



Christ’s constant power, and unique telling of things heavenly is His, because He ever dwells on high.  Christ can open to us the heavens, hitherto shut to all others; for He dwells there.  Thus He has still to elevate the ideas of all concerning His person and work.  Israel was prepared for neither, and stumbled.



There seem to be several references in this verse.  First to a passage in Proverbs 30: 3, 4,I neither learned wisdom, nor have the knowledge of the Holy Ones (Heb.).  Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? who hath gathered the wind in his fists? who hath bound the waters in a garment? who hath established all the ends of the earth? what is his name, and what is his son’s name, if thou canst tell?’



Here is a word about ‘the Holy Ones’ (plural).  Then comes a notice of God and His Son, and of the ascent into heaven and descent.



There is a second reference to Dent. 30: 12, on which the Apostle Paul insists, as teaching us faith’s way of salvation.



There is a third reference to Eph. 4: 9, ‘Now that He ascended, what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?’



But did not Enoch ascend to heaven? and Eljah?’ How then could it be said - ‘None but the Son of Man ever ascended?’



None but Christ cane down out of the heaven of heavens.  We must understand then, that the heaven to which Enoch and Elijah are gone up, is not the heaven of heavens, the abode [Page 97] of Christ.  And we know that there are several heavens.  Moreover, neither of them have come down from heaven.



14, 15. ‘And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, in order that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.’



The men of Intelligence’ asserted, that Jesus came as the Son of the Unknown Father, in the character of an antagonist of Moses, to deliver men from the power of the Creator, who was also God of the Jews.  Here is proof to the contrary.  John testifies, that Jesus the Son of God is in sympathy with Moses and the prophets. Moses, as he says, wrote of Him.  The Old Testament history gave, by inspiration of the same Spirit which rested on Christ, types of the great redemption.  It is this which gives life and salt still to those observances of Israel, which the onward progress of God’s scheme of salvation has antiquated.



The cross of the Christ is the end of the earthly things, and the opening of the heavenly ones - the full proof of Israel’s unbelief and rejection.  Out of the Incarnation (verse 13), springs cross and redemption.



The Saviour shows Himself perfectly at home in the Scriptures.  He quotes them as sufficient authority on all points, both to men and to devils, to friends, or foes.  Let us then trust them fully!



Our Lord gives prominence to a scene in the wilderness, as discovering God’s plan of salvation.  For Jesus is not only needed as a teacher, in which aspect Nicodemus was ready to own Him; but He is needed also as a deliverer from death.  Thus He brings into view another failure, under which, in common with the rest of Israel and of the Gentiles, Nicodemus stood.  He had pointed out to the Pharisee his need of new life from the Spirit of God, without which he would not have part in the Kingdom glory.  He next shows him his need of atonement for sins, which was to be effected only by the death of the Son of God.



Let us now look at the points of resemblance and difference suggested by the comparison.


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Israel, towards the close of their forty years’ sojourn in the desert, grew tired, and distrusted God’s intent to bring them into the land.  They murmured against their leader and against God.  At once Jehovah sends fiery serpents, which bit the people.  They did their best to counteract the venom by means of the several expedients which man seeks to employ.  But in vain.  Much people died.’ The sin found its punishment.  But after man’s impotence against this swift death had been shown, and the confession of sin had been made, the mediator is directed to provide a way of deliverance.  Moses is to make a serpent of brass, and fix it on a pole, that the bitten by the serpents might look and live.  One and the same object would suffice for all.  The application of the remedy was the simplest possible.  It was not, that each should make for himself a serpent of brass.  Each had but to look at the one serpent provided by the mediator.  And all that was needed to call forth its healing virtues, was a look.  How like to God’s salvation now!



They were not required to prepare some medicine to be applied on the outside, or to be drank within.  They had but to accept a remedy fully complete and prepared.  Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth,’ Is. 45: 22.  Sinner! you have laid on you no preparatory work, no making yourself better; no waiting for God’s time!  God’s time is now.  Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation.’



What is meant by the lifting up of the Son of Man?



There is probably a primary reference to Israel’s idea of Messiah’s exaltation, as the head of all rulers and kings on earth.  This shall indeed come to pass in its due time (Is. 52: 12; 53: 12).  But previous to that, as the Saviour observes, there was to be an elevation of another character altogether, such as Moses gave to the serpent in the wilderness.  For those whom He came to save were dying.  There must be, as the sentence of the Garden of Eden showed, first a bruising of the Deliverer’s heel, before He can prove victorious over the Great Adversary of man and bruise his head.  For sin must be forgiven, before the [Page 99] [millennial] kingdom of glory for which Israel was waiting, could appear.  Now, the scene in the desert gave indication of that blessed consummation.



1. Into the Garden sin entered, through the Serpent’s injection of distrust into the minds of our first parents. God at once notices their disobedience, and passes sentence upon the human culprits and the serpent.  He gives intimation of a Deliverer sprung peculiarly from the woman, who should avenge Satan’s trespass by his utter overthrow.  But the first result of the conflict would be suffering to the Deliverer: a consequence hinted also by the sword of fire, which threatened every one who should attempt to restore to man, the sinner, the lost fruit of the tree of life.  Now, that bruising of the heel of the Champion of man is only another aspect of the lifting up of the Son of Man.  The lifting up of the Son of Man was accomplished on the cross.  And it was in the same crucifixion that His feet wore nailed to the tree.  Thus the bruising of Messiah’s heels was accomplished (Psalm 89: 50, 51).



He who is to be lifted up is ‘Son of Man’ - really a man, else He could not atone, He could not suffer death. God must be glorified in the same nature that had sinned.



But so deep is the fall, that not only a teacher is needed to the dispel darkness of ignorance, but a redeemer is needed, enough to break the fetters in which man lies, under sentence of death.  This was humbling news to the Pharisee.  Light will not cure the bite of the serpent, nor would instruction prevent the death of the bitten. Instruction, without a deliverer, would be only the making known the certain strides of a death not to be warded off.



Serpent in the Garden was pronounced cursed; and a token of God’s displeasure was there given, in its going upon its belly.



2. The people of Israel in the wilderness distrust Jehovah, as did Adam and his wife.  Through the temptation of Satan, they murmur, and then comes punishment upon them: the quick infliction of the death threatened in Eden; and that by means of [Page 100] the Serpent who pretended to be the friend of the guilty and disobedient pair.  Israel’s powerlessness to deliver themselves from their treacherous foe, and from the just penalty of sin is shown, and the Mediator’s aid is sought.  Then comes deliverance, and it is through the serpent lifted up upon a pole.



What meant this lifting?  The Law has told us: it signifies the putting of Satan under the curse of the Law.  He is now seen to be a culprit fixed under the wrath of God (Deut. 21: 22, 23).  And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day (for he that is hanged is accursed of God); and thy land be not defiled, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.’  The wrath which Satan has earned by his lying and murderousness, is inflicted on him in effigy.



Here is advance on Eden.  Those bitten by the serpents were to look at that figure, and new life would flow to them, out of the death they had merited by their distrustful speeches.  The prophetic signification of that scene, then, was - that a day would come, when Jehovah, God of Israel, would execute upon Satan - the Destroyer of Eden - the wrath there threatened against him.  He should be fixed for ever under the curse of God, as the foe of God and man.  And that would be the day of the commencing kingdom of God, the time of man’s deliverance, and of the new life of resurrection.  So that the whole is closely connected.  In that day, when the rest of creation rejoices, an additional sign of God’s displeasure is to be fixed on the serpent; he is then to eat dust.



Jesus, as the Son of Man, needed to be lifted.  For only thus could the curse of the Law come on Him.  He had perfectly observed the Law, and earned its blessing - eternal life.  How then could He be pierced by its curse? By crucifixion, that death upon a tree, which is pronounced accursed by God (Gal. 3: 10-13) ‘For as many as are of the works of the Law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the Law to do them.’  [Page 101] But that no man is justified by the Law in the sight of God, is evident: for, the just shall live by faith.  And the Law is not of faith: but, the man that doeth them shall live in them.  Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.’  That mode of His death the Saviour more than once predicted in this Gospel (8: 28; 12: 33).  And its fulfilment was the more remarkable, because His first condemnation by Caiaphas, was for blasphemy; and had Israel been able to effect their will, He would not have been crucified, but stoned, as the Law required.



But how is man, the Serpent’s dupe, to be delivered from the curse?  By the Surety’s bearing the curse; by the Lord of life stooping to death, the penalty, and exhausting it.



The lifting up then is to Jesus the same thing that it was to the serpent.  It was the setting Him under the judicial curse of God: the double curse of Eden and of Moses.  And Paul assures us, that it is only by the Saviour’s endurance of the curse, which we have deserved, that we can come out into blessing.



The sin of Israel in that day was worse than that of Eden, or of their fathers in the desert.  Man and Satan, Jew and Gentile, joined to crucify the Son of Man.  A murderous hand was lifted against the Creator by the creature.  The Serpent and his Seed joined, to put under death and the curse, the Son of the Blessed.



What was the thing that was commanded to be lifted, under the Law?



A dead piece of brass, incapable of feeling; a representative only of the real offender.  It was but a figurative infliction of justice upon the serpent.  But under the Gospel, the One lifted is a real Person - the Son of Man, and Son of God.  He bears not the figure of the curse, but its reality, even unto death.



What was the result of this lifting, on the one hand; and of the bitten ones looking, on the other?



In the desert, life came to those who were bitten, and who were thus set under the wrath of God and the endurance of the [Page 102] penalty - or under death.  Thus Jehovah showed His intention to save the lost.  Israel’s plan of safety was to take away the serpents out of the camp – ‘Let the bitten die!  For them there is no hope! But save those who are as yet untouched!’



That was not God’s plan; nor would it have conveyed to us the hope afforded by the actual deliverance.  In His own way God is proving that those under sentence of death, under guilt, and the curse, shall yet be saved.  A single look of the natural eye at the serpent of brass, brought new life to those entering the valley of the shadow of death.



In our day the eye of faith is to be turned upon the cross of Christ, and life spiritual will begin, in the forgiveness of sin; and love to God will take the place of enmity.  We see in the Saviour’s crucifixion, the promised Deliverer of the garden come, and the heel of Him who is to prove our Rescuer, bruised under the curse and death.  We are assured, therefore, that the judgment upon the Serpent and his seed is on its way, and will finally and for over overtake him.  This, therefore, gives us a double consolation.  Satan shall one day be shut up under the wrath of heaven, far from the Paradise of God, and unable to tempt or to deceive any more. But already the Son of Man has borne the curse due to us, and entered on the blessing.  The cross of Christ discovers to us on the one hand the wickedness of man and Satan; and, on the other, the mercy and justice of God.  This exaltation of Jesus on the cross proves that Israel is regarded as still in the wilderness.  They had not yet reached their rest and heritage.



Must be lifted up.’  Wherein lies the necessity?  In the claims of Law, and of God’s truth and justice, as the Governor of all.  Here lies the failure of all other systems of religion; specially of those which push aside the atonement.  They refuse to own the justice of God as the Governor, and man’s breaches of Law, as putting him under the penalty for ever.  They regard God as a Father; sin as a disease only; and man as unfortunate, rather than a culprit.  But Scripture shows the stern truth of man’s position.  Hence the cup could not pass [Page 103] away from Christ, if man were to be redeemed.  If Jesus suffered not. there was nothing but man’s perdition under the just penalties of broken Law.



In that day of Moses, the comfort and blessing of the scene were confined to bitten men of Israel!  Now the benefits of God’s deliverance are thrown open to all.  For Jesus had already, on one main point, asserted the equality of Israel’standing with that of the Gentiles.  Man as born of the flesh, must be born again.



16. ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His Only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’



With what intent was the Only-begotten given?



That by trusting Him, men may be saved.  It is now assumed, that all in the world, Jew and Gentile alike, answer to the serpent-bitten of the Jewish camp.  All are murmurers, and under death.  This state of things the Gospel does not bring; it finds.  The Law does not produce it.  It finds man already under sin and judgment; at enmity against God within, as well as under His judgment without.  Into this state of misery, grace, finding man under woe, comes.  The Substitute gives to Law all its dues, that Law may without reluctance deliver up its prisoners, not to death, but to eternal life.



Something is needed.  If the sinner be left to himself, he ‘perishes.’  What is meant by that?  Does it mean annihilation?  No!  Neither in ordinary speech, nor in Scripture does perishing mean that, whether as spoken of man, or of anything else.  The Laocoon frigate foundered at sea, and all souls on board perished.’  Does that mean their annihilation?  Of course not!  Neither body nor soul is annihilated.  But their well-being, considered as living men, was taken away.  This is its usual sense, in ninety-nine times out of a hundred.  So then ‘perishing,’ or being ‘destroyed’ (they are the two renderings of the same Greek word), means the withdrawal, not of his being by annihilation; but of his well-being (or welfare), by his perdition.


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A look of the bitten at the serpent of brass was instant life.  Faith’s first look at Christ imparts eternal life.  This is a gift worthy of God!  It would have been a great boon to give man a thousand years of bliss, if after that he was to drop into nothing.  But endless life! - life prolonged till thousands of years are like the sands of the sea-shore unnumbered - this was a divine gift, worthy of God’s bounty, and one which could only be procured for us by a Divine Person.  We are accustomed to speak of ‘eternal life’ without weighing what it means, and how it comes to us.  Eternal life then is something that no creature can deserve.  Not even an un-fallen angel, who has for seven thousand years unfalteringly and without blemish served God, can deserve eternal life.  Nay, he cannot deserve a single day’s life!  If God were to take away his life to-day, he would be guilty of no injustice.  The angel, it is true, has never sinned; he has given to God his entire obedience.  Good! But he was bound to do all that.  He has paid his debt, and no more!  God owes him nothing.



Whence it is self-evident, that the taking away of existence is not God’s counsel concerning the wicked.  They owe Him much, and they keep it back.  They have much transgressed His laws, and as the Governor He is bound to repay them wrath.  But the removal of existence is not wrath!  Existence might be taken away from one who has never sinned.  Then it cannot be God’s threatened wrath on the sinner.  It displays no displeasure on God’s part; it produces no suffering on the one who ceases to be.  The character of God as the Just Governor demands satisfaction when His Law is broken.  In fact, every law carries with it a penalty, whereby it is guarded against violation.  The Law-giver who enacts the command is bound to inflict the penalty.  The transgressor owes that debt of satisfaction to the Governor.  The Great Governor owes it to Himself to demand satisfaction.  It is God’s prerogative to take vengeance.  Vengeance is Mine, I will repay; saith the Lord.  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.’  Fury of fire’ is to assail the adversaries (Heb. 10: 27).


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17.  For God sent not His Only-begotten Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved by Him.’



In all this interview there was much to shock and to break up the Jewish ideas of Nicodemus.  He expected a Messiah the Son of David, entirely Israelite in his sympathies, who should come to condemn and slay the Gentiles because of their idolatry, but to save Israel as good and obedient; as keeping the Law and abhorring idols.  But where was the Israel of the picture which their pride painted?  Nowhere!  Israel is to this day under the original curse of their idolatry committed before the mount of the covenant.  And one day, as the Scripture foretells, the nation at large will fall into idolatry once more, and be seven times as bad as they were before Sinai (Matt. 12: 43-45).



Israel sinned yet more fearfully then, in rejecting and slaying greater than Moses, whom Moses had commanded them to receive and obey.  Hence in this Gospel of John, Israel and the Gentiles are put on a level as sinners.  It is the time of the testimony – ‘There is no difference.’  There is difference as to the degree of sin, but no difference as to the fact that all are sinners.  Nay, Israel, as possessed of greater light, is more guilty than the Gentiles.  And both are alike unable to pay the dues of God.  Hence our Gospel traces the ruin of men higher than to Israel’s offences against the covenant of Sinai.  Sin had come into the race long before John sets all under sin, ever since the offence of our first parents.  Hence, Jesus speaks of ‘the world’: of the world’s sin, and the world’s Saviour.  The love of God is manifested towards the world.  What is meant by ‘the world’? Some hyper-Calvinists would make it the ‘world of the elect.’  For their scheme admits of Christ’s death for the elect only.  But this is a sad perversion of Scripture, to favour a system.  It is just an example of treading down one truth in fierce partizanship on behalf of its fellow.  It shuts out the testimony, which this Gospel so distinctly gives, that Christ died, not only to ‘gather in one the children of God scattered abroad,’ but for Israel as the nation; multitudes of whom will perish (John 11: 51, 52).


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The world,’ in the writings of John, always means the party opposite to the elect.  Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out.’  How is it thou wilt manifest Thyself unto us, and not unto the world?’ John 14: 22.  Because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore doth the world hate you,’ 15: 19.  Ye shall be sorrowful, but the world shall rejoice; ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy,’ 16: 20.  I pray not for the world, but for the men that Thou hast given me out of the world,’ 17: 6-9.  The world,’ in John, means the circle of those to whom the Gospel of God’s grace has been presented, while they have not accepted it.



To make ‘the world’ signify ‘the elect’ produces absurdity in these and other passages.  God gave His only begotten Son for the elect, that ‘whosoever believeth on Him should not perish.’  Whence it would follow that not all the elect would believe and be saved.  Because ye are not of the elect, but I have chosen you out of the elect, therefore the elect hate you,’ 15: 19.



17. ‘For God sent not His Son into the world in order that He should condemn the world; but in order that the world should be saved by Him.’



The design of Christ’s sending is here stated.  This is of the utmost moment.  Salvation was the counsel of the Father, the execution of the Son.  The idea which recurs the most frequently in this Gospel is Christ’s being sent.  Hence the Father must be One Person, the Sender; the Son, who is sent, must be another.  Hence those schemes which affirm the unity of the Godhead, to the exclusion of more persons than one, deny the Gospel at its root.  This the Unitarians do; and the Swedenborgians, who are mystic Unitarians.  The Old Testament was the proclamation of God’s oneness, against the many gods of heathenism.  The New Testament is the discovery to us, that within that unity of the Divine Nature there is a Trinity of Persons.  He who denies this may be a Jew, but cannot be a Christian.



Let us notice then the design of Christ’s sending. First, in [Page 107] its contradiction of false views.  (1) The Jews imagined, that Messiah would come to condemn and slay the Gentiles, and to glorify Israel.  He would be a great conqueror, like Joshua and David; a great king, like Solomon.  His mission would be to cut off all Israel’s foes, and to lift them up to be the chief nation of the earth.  But if God act on the principle of justice, which carries with it condemnation and destruction, how could Messiah spare Israel, if God were really just? For Israel was as sinful as the Gentiles; if not more so, as possessed of greater light.



Now, it is true, that Messiah shall do at last as the Jews thought.  But not till the atonement had been prepared; on the foundation of which God can be just, and yet justify the believer in Jesus.  Thus, when God would deliver Israel out of Egypt, He first provided the Lamb and its blood, that by means thereof the Israelite first-born might be atoned for and saved, while the Egyptian first-born were smitten.  But while Israel in Egypt accepted the command concerning the lamb and its blood, they refused the true Lamb - the Lamb of God - when He came.  Hence, God in grace presents His Lamb to all the world.  Israel is now not ‘the seed of Abraham,’ but flesh born of the flesh, dealt with on the same level as the Gentiles.  All are like the serpent-bitten of Israel in the desert.  All are invited, on the ground, not of their goodness, but of their sin and misery, to accept this gracious gift of God.



(2)  This is in contradiction too of the ideas of ‘the Men of Intelligence.’  According to their theories, sin was the result of a soul’s being plunged into a body of matter.  It was the fault of the Creator, not of the creature.  It was due either to the Creator’s ignorance, His powerlessness against the mischief that dwells in matter, or His being positively evil.  Different sections of these dreamers took up different views concerning this defect of the Creator.  But all laid the blame on the Creator, whom they identified with the God of the Jews. According to their fancies then, Jesus came down from the Supreme God - a God higher than that of the Jews - on purpose to deliver men, not [Page 108] from sin and guilt, for which they were justly condemned; but from matter.



The Saviour, therefore, with a word overturns this folly; and shows that His Father, who was the God of Israel, and the Governor of the world, sent His Son to save the lost, to deliver man from the just penalty of sin arising from their broach of His laws; and to sanctify their fallen souls.



Jesus is indeed coming to judge the world, and to condemn it: but, that is to be only at His Second Advent!  His first coming was not to condemn, but to save.



And now let us distinguish between God’s benevolent intention in the mission of His Son; and the actual result.



1. The intention of God as the Governor of the world, offering means of salvation to men, is as wide as the Arminian pleases.  It is in order that any or all of fallen men may be saved.  The Son of God offers to each guilty son of Adam pardon and peace.  Is not that enough?  No! So great is the enmity of the human heart, it refuses this Great Person and His geat gift.  Thus, each so addressed will at last be justly damned.



2. But this God’s intention as Governor of the world would not produce the salvation of any one, if he were left to his own choice.  Therefore, within this wide invitation there lies a further intent and choice of God.  He decrees, as the Great Benefactor, the actual salvation of some.  He foresaw the rejection of His Son by all the guilty; therefore, He determined from all eternity whom He would renew, whom He would lead, by His Holy Spirit’s operation upon their renewed souls, to Christ, and finally save.  Here the Calvinist is at home.  But the Arminian view is likewise necessary to God’s glory.  It is necessary to prove the bitter enmity of man’s heart, and the real invitation of God, which invitation man, left to his own choice, unreasonably and with fatal effect, refuses.



Thus then let us watch against opposite errors.  Many in our day are imagining, that the Gospel has utterly failed of its intent, because so few are saved.  And hence they seek the reason [Page 109] in the defects of present agencies for preaching the Gospel; and say that it is only owing to the carelessness of Christians, or the faults of the preachers of the Gospel, that the whole world is not led to Christ.  This is quite a mistake.  Though apostles, great as Paul, Peter, and John, were to go forth, gifted with supernatural knowledge, utterance and miracles, they would not turn all who heard them to the faith.  Though every Church of Christ in every land were as holy as the Church of Jerusalem, and possessed of - what we have not - the miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost, the world, while it would be much more enlightened, would not be won to Christ.  It would only be roused to bitter enmity against believers, and to bloodshed.  Did the Church at Jerusalem convert all Jerusalem? No!  In seven years it was broken up by persecution, and scattered over the world.  So it would be again.  The devil is abroad, and he evermore stirs his children to persecute, the more God’s people are stirred for good.



Still let us guard against rushing into the opposing view.  Some extreme ones set themselves against all extra effort, indeed against any effort at all.  God has His own elect, and one means or by another they will all be brought in; though every believer is dosing at his post, and every minister of the Gospel preaches as drowsily as you please.’



It is true then, that some are perishing for want of hearing the Gospel.  Go then, proclaim it, and out of the many who hear, some will believe!



But do not thence gather, that the only or chief obstacle that must be removed is ignorance; and that our only effort is to be to make the Gospel attractive, so that men shall accept it.  It is not so.  There is another and far more deeply rooted obstacle, which Jesus notices in verses 19, 20.  It is the enmity of the fallen heart against God.  And that shows itself in the case of the majority of the hearers.  Those who have heard, refuse on various pretences to accept the call of God.  Ignorance of the Gospel in some places is removed in great measure.  Men can state clearly God’s way of saving sinners; [Page 110] yet they are lost!  It is not that they do not know the terms, but that they will not have them.  Ask city-missionaries! And they will tell you, that the great majority of those with whom they come in contact, refuse to be saved in God’s way.



Now this is just what the scriptures of the New Testament teach and suppose.  Do they instruct us, that, unless there be overwhelming faults in preachers and churches, all mankind will accept the Gospel?  By no means! Jesus tells us - what is the great feature of our day – ‘Many are called, but few are chosen.’  And it is only the few chosen who accept the Gospel.  Gather then thousands to hear the word!  Visit every house; let none in your city or neighbourhood be without a call to accept Christ!  Still only the few will accept.  Ours is a dispensation of election.



This is proved by the statements of that great missionary, Paul.  He preached Christ to Israel with wonderful gifts, and a marvellous testimony and evidence concerning Christ.  What was the effect?  Why, at Damascus, where he first preached, his life was in such peril, that he had to leave it.  He tried to win the ear of Jerusalem; seeking with all his energy to gain over his brethren to faith in the Son of God.  With what success?  That there also he had to flee for his life.  Was it any defect in himself?  No: but in them!  Jesus warns him to leave off. He knows, and foretells the result.  They will not receive thy testimony concerning Me.  Paul pleads to be allowed to go on, because his case was so startling in its force, that they must surely be persuaded.  Depart; for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles.’  But though Christ Himself sent him to the Gentiles, the treatment he received in not a few of their cities was of a like character.  Again and again he is maltreated, or plotted against, and is compelled to flee.



Just listen also to his own statement about results.  Does he expect that all who hear will believe and live?  Nay.  If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them,’ Rom. 11: 14.  Even so (as it regards Israel), there is a remnant, according to the election of grace.’  And the election of God’s grace is necessary, [Page 111] because the choice of man’s nature is just the opposite.  And now as it regards the Gentiles, it is the same thing.  To the weak, because I was weak, that I might gain the weak; I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some,’ 1 Cor. 9: 22.  That is, Paul who preached and travelled with an energy and grace not found in fulness now, expected to save but ‘some.’  And so he found it. He perceived, and tells us, that the Gospel everywhere finds some who accept it, and are saved; and some who refuse it, and are lost.  But God is glorified in each case (1 Cor. 1: 18-21; 2 Cor. 1: 15, 16).



The last and most fearful indignation will fall on those, who having heard the truth, refuse it (2 Thess. 2: 10). On such God will send an energy of delusion leading them to hug the devil’s deceit, which is death.



Such also was the Saviour’s anticipation and prediction, when He sent out the twelve apostles to Israel.  He does not expect that every city would receive His missionaries.  He gives instructions how to act, in case household, or village, or city, should refuse to listen!  He expects that the disciples would be seized, and tried for their lives, though duly accredited by God.  And so it came to pass.  So it will be, until the next or universal dispensation shall come in.  Then all Israel shall be saved.’



18.  He that believeth on Him is not condemned; but he that believeth is condemned already; because he hath not believed on the name of the Only-begotten Son of God.’



All. men are under condemnation, as fallen sons of fallen Adam.  There is no way out from this condemnation by obedience to Law.  Those who are set like Israel, under Law as the rule of life, only get condemned a second time; because of their own disobedience to God’s commands.  But there is a way out from this standing of condemnation, by the acceptance of God’s testimony concerning the Son of God.  He who accepts this witness, has passed, together with Christ, his Surety and Righteousness, out from condemnation into a state of continued [Page 112] acceptance with God, which we call justification.  He has suffered in Christ Law’s penalty of death; he has presented to Law Christ’s obedience, and has received in return at once the blessing of Law fulfilled, and freedom from Law to walk according to God’s commands by Christ.



Faith then, or unbelief, is now the question of questions.



(1) The unbeliever is condemned as a limb of unbelieving Adam.  He has derived from Adam the conscience which his father stole by disobedience.  And that conscience condemns him as disobedient to its calls.  He hides, consequently, from God, when God draws near.  He vainly attempts to defend himself from the Divine accusations of guilt.  His own personal offences also come up.  He is in debt to the Great Governor; a debt which he can never pay.  He is guilty, too, of a greater offence than any of the heathen; for he has rejected the testimony to the Son of God.



(2) He is under condemnation, because of his enmity against God.  This grows with every year while he lives in sin; with every day of his unbelief in Jesus, as the only-begotten Son of God.  By unbelief in God’s creative goodness, came in the disobedience of Eden.  By unbelief in God’s redemption-grace in the gift of His Son, man is placed beyond hope.  Mercy could save this offender against Law; but he will not have mercy!  Then his damnation is just and certain.



He is judged already.  This is illustrated by bitten Israel in the desert.  The sting of the serpent was the proof of the Israelite’s transgression, against the God who in mercy delivered them, and yet in justice ruled them.  The natural and necessary effect of the sting was to bring in death.  The bitten could not fence off the just consequence - even death.  But the serpent of brass brought in pardon and life to all who looked on it.  Such a one was led out from under death and judgment into life.



He perished with his blood on his own head, who would not look, or who delayed to do so.  Every one then now is dying under the sentence of justice, who has never heard of the Gospel.


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His own acts and his father’s condemn him.  But he dies with heavier guilt by far, who has heard of mercy, and will not at once accept it.  Great as is the Deliverer sent, and the salvation offered, so great is the sin of the delay, or of the refusal to receive Him and His redemption.  The man who has but once heard the Gospel and deferred it, or put it aside on any pretence, is heavier in sin than the devils themselves.  For they have never had mercy offered; much less mercy through so great a Saviour!



Who is Jesus?  Many will confess Him a good man, a great teacher, a perfect example.  All that is true; but all below the point required for salvation.  Nicodemus had owned some of this.  So that Jesus here states the superiority of His person above all other sons of God.  He is the Only-begottenof God’s sons.  He therefore who is an Unitarian, is lost.  For he refuses the name of the Only-begotten Son of God.  Jesus is to him, not the Son of God by nature, but a son of God on the same ground as many other sons; although He be the chief of them.  He is not therefore the ‘Only-begotten’ to him, though he may confess Him best-begotten.



See again, the error of those who think, that non-elect men are not required to believe on Christ, and are not guilty, if they do not.  Our Lord says, that the reason of final and unalterable condemnation is, that men will not believe.  Well, but hyper-Calvinists say – ‘How can a man justly be condemned, for not doing what he cannot do?  Does not Scripture say: That the ungodly are dead in trespasses and sins?  And how can a dead man do ought?’



To this it would be enough to reply: ‘This must be faulty reasoning, for it contradicts the assertion of the Son of God.’  And there we might be content to leave it.  It would be enough to confute the hyper-Calvinist.  But as there is a clear way out of this boasted reasoning, and as there are some sincere ones who are caught by its fallacy, let us for a few minutes examine the argument.



Frst then - When Paul by the Spirit speaks of himself and others as by nature dead in sins, does he mean by that to assert, [Page 114] that they ceased to be responsible, and had got beyond judgment?  By no means!  He testifies to their being ‘dead’ as regards true feelings towards God, but not as being thereby relieved from responsibility.  On the contrary, in the two chief Epistles which describe men as ‘dead,’ the Apostle speaks of their conduct as being exceedingly evil, and drawing down God’s wrath upon them (Eph. 4: 17-19; 5: 6, 7, 11 ; Col. 2: 13).  Colossians 2: 13, speaks of the death in sins, but chap. 3. ver. 6, speaks of God’s just judgment as about to fall on sinners, because of their activity of disobedience.  To God and to good they are dead; to evil they are alive.  And for this life of evil, and for this deadness to God’s calls, they will be judged and condemned.  Else it would follow, that the worse a man became, the less responsible and the less liable to judgment he would be!  And so the devil and his angels, as being seared of conscience, ought not to be accused, or judged at all!



The whole mistake lies in saying that they cannot believe, and so are not responsible.  There are two senses to the word ‘cannot’; and it is from confounding the two ‘cannots’ that the mischief arises.  For one of the two ‘cannots’ a man is justly excused; the other is no good excuse.  Indeed, ‘cannot’ is a word not properly and strictly used of the sinner’s refusal, which is owing to his disinclination of heart.



There is a ‘cannot’ spoken of the body; there is a ‘cannot’ said of the soul or will.  Here is a groom, to whom his master calls – ‘John, bring me the horse!’  John does not come!  He goes to see what is the reason, and John says – ‘Master, I was hasting to come, but the horse has kicked me and broken my right leg.’  He says, and justly – ‘I cannot.’  His will is ready to do so, but his body is out of order; it will not fulfil the desires of his soul.  He is not responsible.  He ought not to be punished for any such inability.



But, here is a slothful apprentice.  On a cold and dark winter’s morning, his master calls him to get up.  He lies still in bed.  His master, offended, asks him – ‘Why he did not get up in proper time?’  He says – ‘I cannot.’ What hindered him? [Page 115] A paralyzed body?  No, but a lazy will.  He then is responsible, fit to be punished. We utterly refuse his silly excuse.  So Jesus interprets a similar matter for us.  He tells us of the man in bed who is called on to lend his friend three loaves at midnight.  The person asked replies – ‘I cannot rise and give thee.’  Which ‘cannot do we find in this case?  Cannot’ of the body? or ‘cannot’ of the will?  Cannot’ of the will - clearly.  And so Jesus states it.  I say unto you - though he WILL not rise and give him because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth,’ Luke 11: 8.



In such a case then, there is responsibility.  The will is wrong.  So is it in the case of the sinner.  And for this perverse and unbelieving will he is justly to be smitten.  Then take this match in your hand, and you will blow to pieces the sinner’s excuses, and the reasonings of those who would excuse him.  The sinner can obey Christ, if he wills.  He can ask Christ’s pardon, if he wills, just as He could say to you or me, after offending – ‘I beg your pardon.’  He will not.  Here then is his guilt.  Here his just damnation.  He is not a poor unfortunate, who, against his will, is driven to perdition.  He is a high-minded rebel, who will not stoop at God’s call.



If anyone of the bitten perished in the camp of Israel after the elevation of the brazen serpent, the man was doubly condemned; first, in justice, because of his murmuring; secondly, because of his refusal through unbelief, to accept the way of escape.



19. ‘But this is the condemnation, that the Light is come into the world, and men love the darkness more than the Light, because their works were evil.’



1. The just, the all-sufficient ground of the final condemnation of those who have heard the Gospel will be, that when light and darkness were both presented to them, they accepted the darkness, and refused the light. That bespeaks an evil will.  The whole man therefore is evil.  When the Gospel is neglected or rejected, there is a second condemnation.


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The Light’ here is not Light in general; it is Christ the Personal Light, of whom John had spoken in the opening of his Gospel (1: 5, 7, 8).  The Light is come into the world’ - answers to John’s statements in the opening of his Gospel (1: 9).  Jesus is also referring to Nicodemus’s words – ‘We know that Thou hast come as a Teacher sent from God.’  Christ then is here offered to us as coming, not into Palestine only, but into the world.



Though the work of Christ is open to all the world, yet the blessed results which might have been anticipated from so great, a salvation offered, do not appear.  At this point then we are introduced to the hindering forces, which prevent a salvation universal in its offer from being so in result.  Man is tested by Christ’s coming, and His evil heart is now far more shown, than by Israel’s disobedience to a Law given of God.  Now it is seen, that man will not accept a salvation complete, and offered ready to his hand.  When Israel refused this salvation, it might be thought, that it was owing to some peculiarity in them.  It was due to their self-righteousness as a nation.  But when this salvation is offered to Gentiles, there is still resistance.  None but the elect accept it.  In short, the root of the refusal lies in the very heart of man.  The will of fallen man is against it.  He does not love the Light.  He does love the darkness.  His quarrel against the former messengers of God sent to him lay not in the evil that was in them, but against the good.  This was proved in the clearest way by the coming of Christ, who is Light itself.  In Him was no imperfection; either in the statement of the message, or in the conduct of the messenger.  He, nevertheless, was more hated, and worse treated than any previous messenger of God.



The evil of our day is seen in this, that it is evil increasing, and evil chosen, in spite of the increase of Scriptural light.  That supposes the hardening of soul in wickedness, and consequently, the heaviness of the judgment of God, which will follow upon the rejection of His Son.



Why are the masses slipping away?  Why will they not come [Page 117] to church and chapel?  Because their deeds are evil.’  Because they have chosen the world and Satan, and mean to live the lusts of their heart.  This is increasingly the case.  Many may come out to hear some novelty.  But the ordinary current of religious appeals does not please the majority of hearers.  Most seem to think that the great evil of our day is religious ignorance. That it is widely diffused, is true.  But that religious knowledge is more widely diffused, and pressed on men’s attention than formerly, is true also.  By far the major part of those who have been awakened so far as to listen to God’s truth, choose to go on in sin.



If a man has determined to go on in drunkenness, he will get out of the way of one who comes to seek to turn him out of the path.



A man is responsible for his choice, and will be condemned for it justly, if it is evil.  His deliberate choice shows what he is.  Then, light and darkness being both offered, he prefers the darkness.  Herein lies his condemnation.  We trace a man’s responsibility up to his choice; his choice shows how his heart is fixed.  The heart tells us what the man is.  And on that ground he will be condemned justly, even to his own eyes, at the great day.



The Saviour, then, is giving us the true ground of His own rejection by Israel.  It was not any darkness in Him, but in men: it was evil in the sons of the Wicked One, preferring the darkness, because their deeds were dark. This is the proof of man’s entire depravity.  He loves the darkness. Why are young profligates infidels? Because only so can they quiet their conscience.  They must receive a doctrine which declares man to be but a brute, before they are at rest in living as the brutes.



Vainly does any scheme, which cannot change man wholly, profess to set him right.



The refusal of the Perfect One by men, shows that man, such as he is, is irreclaimable.  He has been tried in the Garden, without Law; then under Law; afterwards under the grace of Christ; and in all of these trials his evil has displayed itself more and more.  When it is a question between Christ and Belial, man prefers Belial.  Jesus or Barabbas! - which will ye?’  Not this [Page 118] man, but Belial’s son - Barabbas!’  When Jesus ejects the demons from the devil-possessed ones of Gadara, although He had cleared the road to the lake infested by these terrible pests, and had healed their countrymen, the Gadarenes take the side of Satan.  They asked Jesus to leave their coasts.  When Paul casts out the evil spirit from the fortune-telling girl of Plillippi, the whole city takes the devil’s side.  The spiritual light of Christ does not scatter the spiritual darkness, as surely and as necessarily as the physical light does scatter physical darkness.  The spiritual light shines in the darkness; but the darkness accepts it not.



20. ‘For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.’



Here is the reason assigned to Nicodemus, why his great friends and fellow-countrymen refused Christ.  Their choice was evil.  They feared the Saviour as light.  It was so in the Garden of Eden.  The guilty pair sought to hide themselves from the light.  For they knew that their evil deed would condemn them.  So evil-doers among men now seek natural darkness, as more suited to their deeds.  The deeds then of Jesus’ enemies were evil, as He tells them.  Hence they hated Him who is Light.  And their hatred was to them a sufficient reason for their keeping away from Christ.  They would not come to Jesus, for He declared their evil ways, and their unrighteousness, and their lying under the curse.  How solemnly He laid their leaders under the ‘woes’ of a broken law!



The awakened sinner, subjected to the testimony of Christ, feels like a man carrying bags of gunpowder, who is being pulled into a smithy, while sparks are flying in all directions, anyone of which may blow him to pieces, because of the explosive powder which he bears.



21. ‘But He that doeth the truth cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.’



The expression – ‘The Light,’ now takes the place of ‘the Son of God;’ because Jesus is the Personal Light, in whom it all [Page 119] centres and dwells.  We have here, then, a word to Nicodemus, partly of encouragement, and partly of rebuke.  (1) He came indeed to Christ, and so far he was a son of light, willing to be taught; on his way to accept the truth and to do it.  For Scripture truth is not merely, or chiefly, intellectual.  It is truth, not merely to be known, but to be acted out or done.  But Jesus represents to him, that his comrades’ refusal to come to Himself, in place of being any witness against Himself, or any evidence that He was not sent of God, and not the Prophet promised to the fathers, was a testimony against themselves; as condemned, and children of the darkness.



(2) Still more rebukable was his coming ‘by night.’  He came to visit the Light in the time of the darkness, as if his act in so doing was partly evil.  Hence Jesus reproves him.  He ought to testify to Christ the Light in the open day.  Was his work in coming to Christ a good work?  Then let him avouch it openly.  Was Christ the teacher sent from God?  Then let Nicodemus be a son of light openly owning Him!  Thus ministers now should call on all who secretly believe in Jesus, to come out from the world which is darkness, under the governance of the Prince of Darkness, and openly to take their stand on the side of the Son of God.  The Saviour’s rite and sign of transition from Satan to Himself is baptism.  Against that rite, when celebrated as Scripture directs, the world has great enmity; because it is a witness against the world as being the place of darkness, which at God’s command is to be left.  Infant-sprinkling, on the contrary, both in its results, as implying that everybody is a Christian; and in its very sign, as not exhibiting death to the old man, and resurrection to the new, is better received.



What a mercy, when our works do not condemn us, though looked at in the light of Christ’s word!  Reader, are you candid? willing to test all by God’s truth?  ’Tis the sign of your being right.



How are our works to be done?  In God.’  If we are on the right ground, we are in Christ: not in Adam, not in Moses.  Only as we are branches in Christ the true vine, are our works good, or wrought in God.


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Thus Nicodemus finds all his previous ideas overturned.  He has learned that his Pharisaic comrades, in place of being legitimate judges of Jesus, were themselves judged and condemned, as serpent-bitten murmurers, lying under death and the curse of Moses’ law, in which they trusted; and also as sons of Darkness and Satan, refused of God, because choosers of the darkness, and unwilling to come to the Light.



22-25. ‘After these things came Jesus and His disciples into the land of Judea, and there He stayed with them and immersed.  Now John was also immersing at Enon, near Salim, because there was much water there, and they came and were immersed.  For John had not yet been cast into prison.  Then there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and a Jew,* about purifying.’


* The true reading.



We have now John Baptist’s final testimony in Christ’s favour; showing that (as the Evangelist had said) he was not the Light himself, but only a witness to Christ the Light, in order that they might be led to Christ to be saved.  It is, subordinately, the apostle John’s vindication of himself, in leaving his original master the Baptist, to attach himself to the Christ.



The water-baptism of John is, in substance, the same as the water-baptism of Christ.  John and Jesus baptise together.  John does not cease immersing, because Christ has begun to immerse.  Christ does not separate his immersion from John’s.  The disciples of John do not say, that Jesus is holding a different doctrine, or practising a different rite from their master.



Here, for the first time, we learn, that not only did Jesus, after John’s imprisonment, take up the Baptist’s call on Israel to seek the kingdom of millennial glory, but that he also urged on those who accepted the doctrine, the fulfilment of the rite of immersion, which was the outward testimony that a man accepted the good news. The three previous Evangelists testified to John’s baptism, and to Jesus’ acceptance of it for Himself; but to the Saviour’s own enforcement of the new rite, both before and after John’s imprisonment, they had not testified.



The present passage confirms our belief, that the birth out of water refers to baptism.  Jesus, instantly after His teaching of [Page 121] Nicodemus on this point, is seen to be practising the rite.  And had Nicodemus fully received Christ as the Light, he would have come to Him for this ordinance, and have received it from Him.  Jesus and John Baptist were both together inviting men to the Kingdom, and immersing in Judea.  That was God’s work then.  It is His call now to all who believe in God’s millennial kingdom, and accept His invitation, that they be immersed.



We form part of the camp of God’s better Israel in the desert.  We are expecting the descent of the Son of God from heaven, to bring in the kingdom of His glory.  Then the call is to us, as it was to Israel at Sinai – ‘Sanctify yourselves! the Lord is coming’ – ‘Wash you; make you clean,’ is a part of the call.  Baptism is the proof that we have understood and accepted the word of the kingdom.



Where the places Enon and Salim are, has been disputed.  But the map of the Palestine Exploration Society shows that they have been discovered.  In the words of verse 23, we see that baptism is immersion.  John frequented this spot, because it was suited to immersion.  It was suited to immersion, because ‘there was much water there.’  Now, neither sprinkling nor pouring require much water; but immersion does.  A pint-basin will suffice for pouring or sprinkling; but to immerse, requires some three or four hundred gallons.  That is, immersion requires from 3,000 4.000 times as much water as sprinkling or pouring.  Therefore that is the Scriptural way of baptising.  The pint-basin then, or the font, is a condemnation of those who use it, as appears by the very first sight of this passage.



24. ‘For John was not as yet cast into prison.’



The former Gospels give us our Lord’s ministry in Galilee, which did not begin till after John’s imprisonment, and after ,the Saviour’s leaving Judea, because of the danger of too quickly stirring His enemies at and around Jerusalem.  But the Redeemer’s ministry, in our apostle’s view of it, had begun before.  Many make difficulties with God’s word, because, instead of learning how God treats the life and deeds of His Son, they [Page 122]  assume that His biography, must be constructed on ordinary human principles.  Here they err.



The passage now to be considered is evidently designed controversially.  It gives us John Baptist’s own negative to the false views of some of his disciples - that the Baptist was the equal of Jesus, or even His superior.  John the Apostle, at the beginning of his Gospel had stated the inferiority of John as compared with our Lord (1: 6, 8).



But now we have the Baptist's own decision on the point - a sentence which ought to be decisive with John’s disciples.  The