VOLUME 1 [Pages 1 - 465]
was probably written at
of Matthew was, while
‘Who was this Christ, of whom
they heard so much?
And how did he stand related to the
Here they branched off into various
the truth concerning
our Lord came into collision with their most
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
the cause of sin.’
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
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
a party, also, of Jewish Christians, who, even after
the destruction of
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
as the TRUE LIGHT. He was
by the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament as
about to come into the
He who at length appeared in the world was
the Creator, but was not
recognised as such.
He presented Himself
as foretold, to
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,
The men above-named are made
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
was, as Irenaeusus
especially designed to counteract the deadly errors
of one named Cerinthus,
who lived at
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.
treats scarcely at all of that which forms almost
the substance of the
three previous (‘or
Synoptic’) Gospels - ‘the
Our Gospel then reveals very fully the Person and Glory of Christ, and the new aspect of the Godhead.
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
The men of Moses
refused this witness; and for this cause they have
ever since been cut off from
* * *
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.
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.’
Christ, the Soil of God, and the Revealer of God,
Creed called ‘The Apostles’, wrongly states creation as effected by the
traces creation to the
was He who carried out the Father’s mind in that
respect, as in all
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
works of creation.
the witnesses to [Page 8] the eternity and Almighty power of their Creator.
that built, all
things is God,’
Rom. 1: 20; Heb.
This divine attribute of creation is assigned
in all its fulness, to Christ, Col.
How, then, do Unitarians get over this
limiting its meaning.
things relating to the Christian dispensation.’ They might
as well say ‘It refers to
His arranging the government of the
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.
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
who created all things must be
Almighty, Omniscient, Eternal.
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.
JOHN THE BAPTIST’S PLACE
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.
‘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.
Luke 3: 15 we
learn that ‘many were
doubting, whether the Baptist were not the Christ.’ And, which
is very noticeable, when Paul
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.
not to be the centre of all eyes and hearts, but to
direct them by his
testimony to another, even to Christ, the uncreated
notices this distinction between
Himself and John.
John was ‘the
burning and the shining lamp,’ 5:
Himself he says, ‘I am the Light of the World,’
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,
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
sense it is objected - ‘That
it supposes the
light was not yet come; which is not correct, for
it had come, when John bore
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
does our religion rest?
on testimony. It
calls for faith; and
faith supposes witnesses who
mission, then, was given
with design to lead all, and not
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
[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
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!
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
errorists were therefore
drawn on to deny a truth which made void their
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
- Bunyan’s Gospel Truths opened, pp.
134, 152, 191, 206.
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
translated, as given [Page
above, it lends no aid to Quaker
early Quakers refused, with
boldness and contempt, the testimony to Jesus
Christ, as the man who was born
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.
which the Son of God came to bring was to be
effected by means of an
object outside men, even Himself as born, dying,
salvation which Jesus brought, was, He
tells us, typified by the deliverance which
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 Person – ‘Him.’ 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.’
Himself as a Jew to the Jews.
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
Christ the Creator was also the God of
The rejection of the true
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
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
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
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
and people and tongue. The great turning point now
is: What think you of
He the Son of God?
Was He the Creator - the God of
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
became the Son of Man.
He was a
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.
this point again entered the spirit of error, which
was especially called to
witness against at
‘tabernacled with us.’
expression is chosen with design, to connect our
Lord’s appearing as a man on
earth with previous visits of God to man.
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.’
‘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.
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.
NOW BEGINS THE HISTORY OF THE GOSPEL.
‘And this is the testimony
of John when the Jews sent
Priests and Levites from
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
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.’
of the history was doubtless ever memorable to the
was probably ready before to give too high
a place to the Baptist.
had stirred the whole nation.
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
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
‘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.’
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
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
the coming of Jehovah (5:
thus also said the angel at His
birth (Luke 1: 16-17),
‘Many of the children of
they who were sent were of the Pharisees. And they
him, and said unto him, “Why then immersest thou;
if thou art not the Christ,
nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
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
things took place in
Was not John, then, taking
too much upon himself, in
immersing, if he were neither the Christ nor Elijah?
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:
indeed, a part of the people’s preparation for the
was a death and burial to Moses, as [Page
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
vast superiority is asserted by the greatest born of
was not worthy to do the most menial
office for Christ.
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.
to the older baptism of persons and clothes, which
by God’s command
took place at Sinai, as the preparation of the
of copies read ‘
next day he seeth Jesus coming to him, and saith,
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
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
Apostle then is very particular
in his narrative here.
connects Jesus with the previous witnessing borne to
the deputation from
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.
He called ‘the Lamb of God’? In
opposition to the lambs of man’s
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
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.
to the lamb of the Passover, which made
atonement for the sins of
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.
there is a fuller reference to Is.
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
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,’
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,
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!
word John points away from himself to another.
John was sent to manifest Jesus to
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.
knew not Jesus by sight.
The two cousins
had been severed from their earliest youth (Luke
the great end of John
Baptist’s mission was to manifest Jesus to
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
and Wonder-worker in
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’?
of the Spirit upon God’s King and
At Jesus’ baptism the Trinity in Unity appears. The Father of the heavens attests the Son, and opens the heavens over Him.
of this opening of the heavens is not generally
is the basis of all the after-action of
It is the setting
forth of the true God, the God of
heaven - Father, Son, and
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
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.
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.
the Spirit that came on Jesus is identified with the
afterwards came upon the
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.
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
attaches them to Him,
opening the way by a question, and an invitation to
come and see where He
description of the spot is given, nor of
The two disciples are
types, I believe, of the
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!
aware who he is, though He had never seen him
bestows on him a new name, which Paul uses
in his Epistle to
a memorable day for John, and accordingly he
recollects even the hour at
which he met the Lamb of God (44,
was leaving Judea for
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.
three Apostles out of
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.
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
* The better reading.
that one so celebrated in Scripture should not come
out of a lowly
town, not named in Holy Writ.
was a part of Messiah’s humiliation.
would impart glory to
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.”’
the result of Jesus’ ministry set on another
footing, gives us an intimation of the remnant of
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
won the name of
Nathanael was sighing for
that day, praying for it,
comparing it [Page 46] sadly with the then state of
of our Lord strikes the simple and candid mind of
Nathanael at once with
He is in the
presence of Divine Intelligence.
expresses his faith, ‘Rabbi, thou art the Son of
God; thou art the
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
(Is. 44: 1-6; Zeph.
Nathanael is regarded as one of the remnant
we have the two views of the Son of
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
* 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.
reader own in Jesus these two titles?
does not the Saviour’s glory
as ‘Son of God,’ thrust His glory as ‘King of Israel’? The
has been so long in abeyance, they cannot
believe it will be fulfilled.
But it must!
jot of Moses or the
prophets can fail.
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
was a secret of the Father’s bosom.
But they testified of
Saviour has never really and in
been King of Israel.
(1) Jesus, when the
multitude wished to make Him King over them, refused
is pleased with a faith which can rest on a sign so
inferior to those
which He was prepared to give. Nathanael should see
Our Lord applies to
Himself and His hearers the dream of Jacob.
as the Son of Man, and
Son of God, was the true ladder,
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,
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
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 Israel’
was the [Page
49] earthly title, and rehearsed our Lord’s place on earth.
discovers to us the heavenly title.
is one. It
is Jesus’ own person; uniting
in Himself the natures of earth
of heaven; of man and of God (Eph.
The words of God which follow Jacob’s
serve to expound the vision (Gen.
day was coming, when the God of Abraham, Isaac,
and Jacob, should bestow on the
patriarchs and their numerous posterity, the land
But there is one special heir of all, even
Christ. ‘Thy seed, which is
shows He has not forgotten His covenant with the
The Saviour has not yet fulfilled His counsel with
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:
‘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.’
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
They will come with Him to set up His
will send them up to heaven on His
will descend again to Him
with replies. The
ladder is ‘the Son of
* 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.
confess Jesus as Son of God.
It is necessary to Christian faith.
But how few own Him to be also ‘King
in the title ‘Son of Man,’ a reference to the
This chapter of our Gospel
discovers to us our Lord from
three points of view.
As He existed from eternity, 2. As man at
His first coming.
3. As seen in the coming millennial
glory, fulfilling the hopes of
and 51 of
of any true interpretation by
an anti-millenarian. How do
those interpret it, who assume it to
be fulfilled in the present day?
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.’
(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;
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.
says this: “Ye are now heavenly citizens, and have
your citizenship above in
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?’
a spiritual access by
faith to a heaven not
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
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
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
(3) The appearance of an angel in
(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.).
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.
suppose the restoration of
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.
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
land they are to enjoy
is the land they saw, stood on, lay down on; and
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!
* * *
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.’
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.
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
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.
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
of the wedding of
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.
Moses were given signs, in token of the mission to
power over the waters was seen in various ways. When he
was sent to
has come an era of greater blessing.
‘Law came by Moses;
grace and truth by Jesus
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
is the bearer of good news,
against our desert.
He is found then,
not interfering in any combat for
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 5 ‘And 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.
is begging the question.
It is not
cannot be proved.
It is against the Scripture facts – the
intoxication of Noah, of
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.
THE OLD TESTAMENT SCRIPTURES.
this He went down to
‘His mother and
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
the contrary, Scripture
teaches, that she had other children, and
was the surprise of the men of
‘The Passover of the Jews was
At a Passover our Lord’s ministry at
‘Jesus went up to
the temple in an evil state.
was really a cattle-market, and money-changers’
justly offended Him, and He at once puts
it down. His
interference was a work
suited to the Passover feast.
was the required [Page 68] putting away of leaven. The leaven
(in its spiritual sense) had
penetrated even the temple.
of covetousness was settled there.
covetousness is idolatry.
So that while
there were none of the old idols wherewith former
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
dealers had paid for their standing in
the temple, and were therefore warranted by the
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
will not move for you!’
Let anyone try thus to interfere at
with authority: ‘Take these
and He is obeyed, though apparently only a peasant
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
now is a spiritual house, made up of living
Peter 2: 5).
carefully teaches the woman of
are of deepest moment.
owns the God of the Jews as His Father. To
most now this is a simple [Page
truth which we have never heard
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
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
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!
the present cleansing, the same scene of evil
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
He cites the text which tells
the millennial [Page
70] glory of
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.’
of the house, and of the city, would ensue on their
would smite them, as He had smitten
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.”’
of the Saviour then was foreseen and foretold in the
Where is the passage to be found which [Page
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
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
wine, last considered.
The drinkers of
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!
‘Jesus answered and said
unto them, - “Destroy this
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.
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
foretold the sin of
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.
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
and were cut off, with their offending censers in
their hand, by fire from
priests now? Who are now properly consecrated? The men
who believe in Jesus’ death and
resurrection, and who are consecrated by blood and
Paul, by the [Holy] Spirit, describes the
new priests, and instructs us
in their right to enter now into the Holiest of all
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
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.
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
75] Thou that destroyest the
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.
short of resurrection shall, or can
Death is the temple’s
the spirit- [i.e.,
is not final
does Jesus so regard
temple shall not be in ruins for
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 and Jesus’
saying both agree.
‘Now when He was in
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
John, in answer
hereto, testifies here to Jesus’ divine knowledge of
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
‘signs’ not a few in
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.
* * *
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.
answered and said unto him, “Verily, verily, I say
thee, except a man be begotten from above* he
cannot see the
* 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.
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.
point, John touches on the great topic of the first
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?’
answered – “Verily, verily, I say unto thee,
man be begotten (born) out of water and wind, he
cannot enter into the
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.
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
Spirit is absolutely
necessary in order to see the
Nicodemus denies the possibility of a
Jesus partly explains
adds to the birth of the Spirit - the
out of water.
is a stronger statement, on the other side, of the
result of such birth.
‘Except a man be
out of water and the Spirit,
he cannot enter into the
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
he cannot enter
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.
Thus we are brought into contact and agreement with
other three Gospels.
John Baptist preceded our Lord in teaching
the coming [Millennial]
indeed this difference, John taught
(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.”’
the reply given in
of our Lord then are most pertinent to convince
Nicodemus of error and
does in effect say – ‘There
is a birth which is possible to a man even when
birth out of the womb of the waters.
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
Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and
the Pharisees refused John’s message and rite (Luke
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
was to manifest the
also speaks of water literally,
and in connexion with immersion, ‘Jesus,
disciples came into the
* I do not mean that He did so personally, of course (John 4: 1, 2).
‘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.
after the descent of the Holy
Ghost, and the teaching of the
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 ;
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
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).
principle we find uncovered to us the reason why all
of God, and all His trials of men, whether
individuals or nations, ended in
was a deep-seated inward
cause, which was not removed by all these outward
is slow to believe that every creature,
and much more each fallen creature, is prone to
evil, and without strength for
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
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.
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
Jesus applies to the men
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.
Spirit came on Jesus at the
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.
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).
So Paul at
‘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
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 …]
him now for his ignorance.
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.
said – ‘We know.’ Jesus answers with a
stronger – ‘We know.’ Why does our Lord use
are divided. But
I see no reason for doubting that Jesus
refers to the witnessing of Himself and John
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
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.
was another department of it - the heavenly; and the
counsels of God
about it were more alien from the thoughts of
confirms His previous hint about
the millennial glory,
as being the union of heaven and earth in
Accordingly the unbelief of
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.
the greatness of our salvation gleams out.
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.
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.
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.’
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
It is this which gives
life and salt still to those observances of
of the Christ is the end of the earthly things, and
the opening of the
heavenly ones - the full proof of
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!
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
Nicodemus was ready to own Him; but He is needed
also as a deliverer from
He brings into view another
failure, under which, in common with the rest of
Let us now look at the points of resemblance and difference suggested by the comparison.
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?
probably a primary reference to
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
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.
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.
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
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
a curse for us:
for it is
written, Cursed is every one that
hangeth on a ‘tree.’
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
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.
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
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?
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
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.
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
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.
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
exaltation of Jesus on the cross proves
‘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.
that day of
Moses, the comfort and blessing
of the scene were confined to bitten men of
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.
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).
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
‘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
is true, that Messiah shall do at last as the Jews
not till the atonement had been prepared;
on the foundation of which God can be just, and yet
justify the believer in
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.
(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.
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.
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
the Church at
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.
proved by the statements of that great missionary,
preached Christ to
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
flesh, and might save some of them,’
Rom. 11: 14. Even
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
prediction, when He sent out the twelve apostles to
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
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
grows with every year while he lives in
sin; with every day of his unbelief in Jesus, as the
only-begotten Son of
unbelief in God’s creative
came in the
He is judged already.
This is illustrated by bitten
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.
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-begotten’ of 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.
of the bitten perished in the camp of
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.
‘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
know that Thou hast come as a
Teacher sent from God.’
then is here offered to us as coming, not into
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
this point then we are
introduced to the hindering forces, which prevent a
salvation universal in its
offer from being so in result.
tested by Christ’s coming, and His evil heart is now
far more shown, than by
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.
then, is giving us the true ground of His own
Vainly does any scheme, which cannot change man wholly, profess to set him right.
of the Perfect One by men, shows that man, such as
he is, is
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?’
[Page 118] man, but
Belial’s son - Barabbas!’ When Jesus
ejects the demons from the
devil-possessed ones of
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.
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.
these things came Jesus and His disciples into the
* 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.
passage confirms our belief, that the birth out of
water refers to
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
part of the camp of God’s better
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.