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Bible Commentaries

Ironside's Notes on Selected Books

John 3

Verses 16-21

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. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

Martin Luther called this sixteenth verse the “Miniature Gospel,” because there is a sense in which the whole story of the Bible is told out in it. “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.” The verse negates the idea that a great many persons seem to have: that God is represented in Scriptures as a stern, angry Judge waiting to destroy men because of their sins, but that Jesus Christ, in some way or other, has made it possible for God to come out in love to sinners. In other words, that Christ loved us enough to die for us and, having atoned for our sins, God can now love us and be merciful to us. But that is an utter perversion of the gospel. Jesus Christ did not die to enable God to love sinners, but “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.”

This same precious truth is set forth in similar words in the fourth chapter of 1 John, “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-62.4.10). So the coming to this world of our Lord Jesus Christ and His going to the cross, there to settle the sin question and thus meet every claim of the divine righteousness against the sinner, is the proof of the infinite love of God toward a world of guilty men. How we ought to thank and praise Him that He gave His Son for our redemption! “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

It could not be otherwise, because He is love. We are taught in 1 John 4:8; 1 John 4:161 John 4:16: “God is love.” That is His very nature. We can say that God is gracious, but we cannot say that God is grace. We can say that God is compassionate, but we cannot say that God is compassion. God is kind, but God is not kindness. But we can say, God is love. That is His nature, and love had to manifest itself. Although men had forfeited every claim that they might have upon God, still He loved us and sent His only Son to become the propitiation for our sins- “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Our Lord Jesus Christ is spoken of five times as the “only begotten” in the New Testament: twice in the first chapter of this gospel. In verse 14 we read, “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” Also in verse 18, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” Then here is this sixteenth verse of the third chapter, “God so loved … that he gave his only begotten…” Again in verse 18, “He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” The only other place where this term is used is in 1 John 4:9, “God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.” It is a singular fact, and shows how wonderfully Scripture is constructed, that that term is not only used five times in the New Testament, but He is also called the “first begotten” or “the first born” exactly five times in the same book.

Now “only begotten” refers to His eternal Sonship. The term, “the first begotten,” tells what He became in grace as Man for our redemption. When He came into the world God owned that blessed Man as His first begotten, saying, “Thou art my [beloved] Son; this day have I begotten thee” (Psalms 2:7; Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5; Hebrews 5:5Hebrews 5:5). The term “only begotten” does not carry in it any thought of generation, but that of uniqueness-Son by special relationship. The word is used in connection with Isaac. We read that Abraham “offered up his only begotten” (Hebrews 11:17). Now Isaac was not his only son. Ishmael was born some years before Isaac, so in the sense of generation you would not speak of Isaac as the only begotten son. He is called the “only begotten” because he was born in a miraculous manner, when it seemed impossible that Abraham and Sarah could ever be the parents of a child. In the Spanish translation we read that “God so loved the world that He gave His unique Son,” that is, our Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God in a sense that no one else can ever be the Son of God-His eternal Son-His unique Son. Oh, how dear to the heart of the Father! And when God gave Him, He not only became incarnate to bear hardship, weariness, thirst, and hunger, but God gave Him up to the death of the cross that there He might be the propitiation for our sins. Could there be any greater manifestation of divine love than this?

You remember the story of the little girl in Martin Luther’s day when the first edition of the Bible came out. She had a terrible fear of God. God had been presented in such a way that it filled her heart with dread when she thought of Him. She brooded over the awfulness of the character of God and of some day having to meet this angry Judge. But one day she came running to her mother, holding a scrap of paper in her hand. She cried out, “Mother! Mother! I am not afraid of God any more.” Her mother said, “Why are you not?” “Why, look, Mother,” she said, “this bit of paper I found in the print shop, and it is torn out of the Bible.” It was so torn as to be almost illegible except about two lines. On the one line it said, “God so loved,” and on the other line it said, “that He gave.” “See, Mother,” she said, “that makes it all right.” Her mother read it and said, “God so loved that He gave.” “But,” she said, “it does not say what He gave.” “Oh, Mother,” exclaimed the child, “if He loved us enough to give anything, it is all right.” Then the mother said, “But, let me tell you what He gave.” She read, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Then she told how we can have peace and eternal life through trusting Him.

Am I speaking to anyone today who dreads the thought of meeting God? Do you think of your sins and say with David of old, “I remembered God, and was troubled” (Psalms 77:3)? Let me call your attention to this word: The love of God has been manifest in Christ. If you will but come as a needy sinner, He will wash your sins away. “But,” you say, “how can I be sure that it is for me? I can understand that God could love some people. I can understand how He can invite certain ones to trust Him. Their lives have been so much better than mine, but I cannot believe that this salvation is for me.” Well, what else can you make from that word whosoever? “God so loved…that he gave… that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” He could not find another more all-embracing word than that. It takes you in. It takes me in. You have many another “whosoever” in the Bible. There is a “whosoever” of judgment: “Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” “Whosoever” there includes all who did not come to God while He waited, in grace, to save. If they had recognized that they were included in the “whosoever” of John 3:16, they would not be found in that of Revelation 20:15.

Somebody wrote me the other day and said, “A man has come to our community who is preaching a limited atonement. He says it is a wonderful truth that has been only recently revealed to him.” Well, I could only write back that the term “limited atonement” has an uncanny sound to me. I do not read anything like that in my Bible. I read that He “taste [d] death for every man” (Hebrews 2:9). I read that “he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for our sins only, but for the whole world” (1 John 2:2). I read that “all we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). And here I read that “whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” I say to you, as I said to the writer of that letter, that there is enough value in the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ to save every member of the human race, if they would but repent and turn to God. Then if they were all saved, there still remains value enough to save the members of a million worlds like this, if they are lost in sin and needing a Savior. Yes, the sacrifice of Christ is an infinite sacrifice. Do not let the enemy of your soul tell you there is no hope for you. Do not let him tell you you have sinned away your day of grace, that you have gone so far that God is no longer merciful. There is life abundant for you if you will but look up into the face of the One who died on Calvary’s cross and trust Him for yourself. Let me repeat it again, “Whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

“Whosoever believeth.” What is it to believe? It is to trust in Him, to confide in Him, to commit yourself and your affairs to Him. He is saying to you, poor needy sinner, “You cannot save yourself. All your efforts to redeem yourself can only end in failure, but I have given My Son to die for you. Trust in Him. Confide in Him!” “Whosoever believeth in Him should not perish.”

A lady was reading her Greek Testament one day. She was studying the Greek language and liked to read in the Greek Testament. She had no assurance of salvation. While pondering over these words, whosoever believeth, she said to herself as she looked at the Greek word for believeth, “I saw this a few verses back.” She went back in the chapter, and then back into the last verses of chapter 2, and she read, “Many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men” (vv. 22-23). “Oh,” she said, “there it is!” “Jesus did not commit himself unto them,” and she stopped and thought a moment, and light from heaven flashed into her soul. She saw that to believe in Jesus was to commit herself unto Jesus. Have you done that? Have you said,

Jesus, I will trust Thee, trust Thee with my soul,

Weary, worn and helpless, Thou canst make me whole.

There is none in heaven, or on earth like Thee;

Thou hast died for sinners; therefore, Lord, for me.

Now, “whosoever believeth in him should not perish.” As you turn the pages of Holy Scripture you get a marked picture of those who refused this grace. To perish means to go out into the darkness, to be forever under judgment, to exist in awful torment. He wants to save you from that. “Whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

“Have,” that suggests present possession. He does not say, “hope to have everlasting life.” You will have everlasting life right here and now when you believe in Jesus, when you trust Him. Somebody pondered about this one day, and then he looked up and said, “God loved-God gave-I believe-and I have- everlasting life.” Everlasting life, remember, is far more than life throughout eternity. It is far more than endless existence. It is the very life of God communicated to the soul in order that we may enjoy fellowship with Him. “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).

In verse 17, as though to encourage the guiltiest to come to Him, He says, “For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.”

I remember, years ago, a dear old man behind the counter in a big department store in Los Angeles where I worked as a lad. The old man was very kind to me. He saw that I was very green and knew not what was expected of me. He took me under his wing and cared for me. I soon got interested in finding out whether he was saved or not. My dear mother was never with anybody very long before she asked them the question, “Are you saved? Are you born again?” I became so used to hearing her ask that question that I thought I ought to ask it of people, too. I went to him one day and said, “Mr. Walsh, are you saved?” He looked at me and said, “My dear boy, no one will ever know that until the day of judgment.” “Oh,” I replied, “there must be some mistake. My mother knows she is saved.” “Well, she has made a mistake,” he said, “for no one can know that.” “But the Bible says, ‘He that believeth on him… hath everlasting life.’” “Oh, well,” he said, “we can’t be sure down here unless we become great saints. But we must just do the best we can and pray to the Lord and the blessed Virgin and the saints to help, and hope that in the day of judgment it may turn out well and we will be saved.” “But,” I said, “why do you pray to the blessed Virgin? Why not go direct to Jesus?” “My dear boy, the Lord is so great and mighty and holy that it is not befitting that a poor sinner such as I should go to Him, and there is no other who has such influence as His mother.”

I did not know how to answer him then. But as I studied my Bible through the years, I could see what the answer was. Jesus unapproachable! Jesus hard to be contacted! Why, it was said of Him, “This man receiveth sinners” (Luke 15:2). Though high in heavenly glory, He still says to sinners, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden” (Matthew 11:28). Yes, you can go directly to Him, and when you trust Him He gives you eternal life. He did not come to condemn the world. He came with a heart of love to win poor sinners to Himself.

And then the eighteenth verse is so plain and simple. Oh, if you are an anxious soul and seeking light, remember that these are the very words of the living God, “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Now, do you see this? There are just two classes of people in that verse. All men in the world who have heard the message are divided into these two classes. What are they? First, “He that believeth.” There are those who believe in Jesus. They stand by themselves. Now the other class, “He that believeth not.” Every person who has ever heard of Jesus is in one of those two classes. You are either among those who believe in Jesus or among those who do not believe. It is not a question of believing about ¥Lim; it is a question of believing in Him. It is not holding mental conceptions about Him, mere facts of history; but it is trusting Him, committing yourself to Him. Those who trust Him and those who do not trust Him-in which of the two groups do you find yourself? “He that believeth in him”-are you there? “He that believeth not”-are you there? Oh, if you are, you should be in a hurry to get out of that group into the other, and you pass out of the one and into the other by trusting in Jesus.

Are you in the first group? “He that believeth in him is not condemned.” Do you believe that? Jesus said that. “He that believeth in him is not condemned.”

I was in Kilmarnock three years ago and gave an address one night in the Grant Hall. A number of people had come into the inquiry room, and I went in afterward to see how they were getting along. A minister called me over and said, “Will you have a word with this lad?” I sat down beside him and said, “What is the trouble?” He looked up and said, “I canna see it. I canna see it. I am so burdened and canna find deliverance.” I said, “Have you been brought up in a Christian home?” He told me he had. “Do you know the way of salvation?” He answered, “Well, in a way, I do; but I canna see it.” I said, “Let me show you something.” First I prayed with him and asked God, by the Holy Spirit, to open his heart. Then I pointed him to this verse and said, “Do you see those two classes of people? What is the first class? What is the second class?” He answered clearly. “Now,” I said, “which class are you in?” Then he looked at me and said, “Why, I am in the first class. I do believe in Him, but it is all dark. I canna see.” “Now look again,” said I. “What does it say about the first class?” He did look again, and I could see the cloud lift. He turned to me and exclaimed, “Man, I see it! I am not condemned.” I asked, “How do you know?” He replied, “God said so.” The minister said, “Well, lad, are you now willing to go home and tell your parents? Tomorrow when you go to work, will you be willing to tell your mates?” “Oh,” he said, “I can hardly wait to get there.”

Now, suppose you are in the other group. Listen, “He that believeth not is condemned already.” You do not need to wait until the day of judgment to find that out. Condemned! Why? Because you have been dishonest? Because you have lied? Because you have been unclean and unholy? Is it that? That is not what it says here. What does it say? “He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” That is the condemnation. All those sins you have been guilty of, Christ took into account when He died. “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). So, if you are condemned, it is not simply because of the many sins you have committed through your lifetime. It is because of spurning the revelation of the Savior that God has provided. If you turn away from God and continue rejecting Jesus, you are committing the worst sin there is. He came, a light, into the world to lighten the darkness. If you turn away from Him, you are responsible for the darkness in which you will live and die.

“And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). Is it not strange that men would rather continue in darkness than turn to Him, who is the light of life, and find deliverance. “For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth [i.e., he that is absolutely honest with God] cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God” (vv. 20-21). Are you going to turn away from the light today or are you coming into the light? Will you trust the blessed One who is the light of the world, and thus rejoice in the salvation which He so freely offers you?

Verses 22-36

After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized. And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized. For John was not yet cast into prison. Then there arose a question between some of Johns disciples and the Jews about purifying. And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him. John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease. He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all. And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony. He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true. For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him. The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

After these things”-that is, after our Lord’s ministry in the city of Jerusalem and His interview with Nicodemus, which we have considered already- “Jesus came, and His disciples, into the land of Judea.” He went out of the city of Jerusalem into the surrounding country preaching and teaching. “There He tarried with them and baptized.” Actually, we know from the fourth chapter, that it was not the Lord himself who ministered the rite of baptism; but as He preached and the people believed His message, His disciples baptized them at His bidding.

Now, strikingly enough, not very far away, the forerunner of the Lord Jesus Christ was still continuing his ministry. We read that “John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there, and they came, and were baptized” (3:23). Aenon is in the Jordan Valley about twenty miles north of where the Lord Jesus was at this time, and many people flocked there to hear John as he gave his great message of repentance with the view to the forgiveness of sin. He had already pointed out the Lord Jesus as the “Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (1:29). The Savior had gone away into the wilderness for forty days of fasting. There He had been tempted. He had returned to Jerusalem and begun His public testimony there, rejected by most, but Nicodemus was one honest soul who was interested in His message. And now the Lord’s own ministry was widening, broadening out. But John continued preaching at the same time, for he “was not yet cast into prison” (3:24).

Very shortly after this his arrest took place. You remember the occasion of it. Herod had been very much interested in John, sent for him on a number of occasions, and was glad to hear him preach. But Herod was guilty of a very grave offense, both against the laws of God and man: he was living in an adulterous relationship with his own brother Philip’s wife, Herodias. Because of his place of power, very few dared to criticize him, but John the Baptist stood before him and fearlessly declared, “It is not lawful for thee to have her” (Matthew 14:4). As long as he preached repentance in a general way, as long as he preached forgiveness of sins in a manner that would apply to everybody, Herod listened to him. But when John made it as personal as that, and pointed out his own sin and expressed the divine disapproval of his iniquity, then Herod’s indignation was stirred and the Baptist was placed under arrest. And you know that later on, in order to satisfy the hatred of Herodias, a woman scorned, John was put to death. But this had not yet taken place, and he was preaching to multitudes and baptizing those who gave evidence of repentance.

The two ministries were going on at the same time, and evidently the Jews were surprised at this, for “there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying” (v. 25). They saw in baptism a symbol of purification. Baptism does not actually cleanse the soul, but it is a symbol of the washing away of sin. And so “they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him” (v. 26). As much as to say, “John, your star is sinking; His star is now in the ascendant. It will not be long until all will be going to Him and no one will be gathering to hear you.”

How beautiful John’s answer was! Not a bit of pride in this man, not a bit of self-assertiveness! He was not concerned about gathering disciples about himself “John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. Ye yourselves bare me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him” (vv. 27-28). We might paraphrase it like this: “I did not come to draw your attention to me. I only came as the forerunner of the promised anointed One. When you questioned me, Art thou that prophet that shall come into the world, of whom Moses spoke?’ I told you I am not. When you inquired, ‘Who art thou then and why do you baptize?’ I told you plainly. I said, ‘I am simply the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his path straight.’ It is honor enough for me to herald the coming of God’s Deliverer, the One who is to bring redemption to Israel and to the world.”

And then he uses a very beautiful figure in verse 29. He said, “He that hath the bride is the bridegroom, but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice; this my joy therefore is fulfilled.” In other words, John refers to something they were all familiar with. At a wedding, the bride is the one interested in her bridegroom, and the bridegroom’s joy is found in his bride. But they had then, as we have today, the “best man,” as we call him, the friend of the bridegroom. And the friend of the bridegroom found his delight in the bridegroom’s joy. And so John says, “I am just like that. I am the bridegroom’s friend. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself is the bridegroom. The bride belongs to Him, not to me. I rejoice in His gladness. I do not feel slighted. I do not feel set to one side because I cannot claim the love and allegiance of the bride.”

Now John, of course, spoke from a Jewish standpoint. According to the Old Testament, Israel was the bride, Jehovah was the bridegroom. Jehovah had become incarnate in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. John said, “I am simply here to announce His coming, and the bride belongs to Him.” But God had other thoughts in mind that were not then made clear. Later on He showed that because of Israel’s attitude toward His blessed Son they would be set to one side during a long period to be known as the “times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24). During this period God, by the Holy Spirit, is taking out a people for His name, for the name of the Lord Jesus, and this people He designates as the bride of the Lamb.

We have a heavenly bride in the fifth chapter of the epistle to the Ephesians, where the apostle sets forth the responsibilities of husband and wife in the marriage relationship. He directs our attention to that which took place at the very beginning, when God gave our first parents each to the other, and says, “He that made them in the beginning said, ‘For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh’“ (Ephesians 5:31). And immediately he adds, “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (v. 32). He shows us that the marriage relationship is designed of God to picture the mystical union of Christ and the church.

The church, therefore, is “the bride, the Lamb’s wife” (Revelation 21:9). We see her in the nineteenth chapter of the book of Revelation at the marriage supper of the Lamb. There we read, “His [bride] hath made herself ready” (v. 7). You remember in that chapter we have two different groups at the marriage supper. We have the bridal company, and then we have the friends of the Bridegroom, just as John expressed himself here. We read, “Blessed are they which are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (v. 9). The bride is not called to the marriage supper of the Lamb! How often we have a wedding and perhaps after the wedding a reception. Well, the friends who attend the reception are invited there. They receive invitations to be present. They are intimate friends of the bridegroom and the bride. But the bride does not receive an invitation. She is there by virtue of her character as bride. It is her wedding and her reception. She does not need to be called to the marriage supper. And so as we look at that wonderful picture in Revelation, we see the bride herself (that is, the church of the firstborn) united in that day to the Bridegroom, our Lord Jesus Christ. And then we see all the Old Testament saints of the Great Tribulation who have been murdered under the Beast and the Antichrist but are raised at the close of that time of trouble.

They are all there, wedding guests, to rejoice in the joy of the Bridegroom and the bride. And that is why our Lord Jesus said of those that are born of women, “There hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11). John was the porter at the door of the kingdom, but he did not live to enter in himself. He did not become a member of the church of the living God, though he heralded the coming of the One who is now the head of that church. You say, “Do you mean to say that John was not a Christian?” Let us be careful to remember what the word Christian means. The word is not synonymous with “child of God.” Old Testament saints were all saved, they were all God’s children, but they were not Christians. The disciples were first called Christians in the new dispensation. A Christian is one united now to Christ in glory, and such are the ones who form the bride of the Lamb.

So John took a subordinate place and rejoiced because of the Bridegroom’s joy. Again he declared, as on a previous occasion, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (v. 30). The apostle Paul expressed exactly the same thing when, in the first chapter of the epistle to the Philippians, he said that his great joy was that “Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-50.1.21). I wonder if we, as children of God, today can enter into this? Are we content to serve without personal recognition, or are we ambitious to be counted somebody or something in a world that has rejected our Lord Jesus Christ? Are we seeking places of power and authority, or recognition even in the church of God itself? That is to deny the spirit that was seen in John the Baptist and in the apostle Paul. Their one earnest desire was to make much of Christ, and they themselves were willing to be lost sight of. That comes out so beautifully in the second chapter of the epistle to the Philippians where Saint Paul, writing to these dear saints in that church, says, “Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all” (Philippians 2:17).

That word translated “offered” is really “poured out” in the Greek. “Yea, if I be poured out upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all.” He is referring to the burnt offering. In Old Testament times whenever they presented a burnt offering before the Lord all the parts of the victim were washed and then placed upon the fire, and they were all burnt as a sacrifice and went up before God, typifying the offering up of His own blessed Son. But just before the priest completed his part of the service, he took a flagon of wine (that was called a “drink offering”) and poured the wine all over the burnt offering. Now that drink offering pictured our Lord Jesus pouring out His soul unto death on our behalf. But, you see, if the worshippers were gathered about, they could see the burnt offering on the altar, but if the wine had been poured out over it, they could not see that drink offering. The wine was immediately lost sight of and only the burnt offering remained. And Paul said, “I am willing,” as he writes to these Philippians, “that your sacrifice and service should have, as it were, the place of the burnt offering and that I, just like the drink offering, should be poured out over the offering that you make.” In other words, “I am willing to do my work to serve the Lord Christ in my day and generation, and then be lost sight of. I am willing that others shall get the glory, if there is any, for the work that is done.” What a wonderful spirit that is! How we need to pray that we may learn more of the meekness and gentleness of Christ, the spirit that says, “Never mind me. If Christ is glorified, that is all I am concerned about. I do not want them to think of me. I do not want them to make anything of me.”

When William Carey was dying, he turned to a friend and said, “When I am gone, don’t talk about William Carey; talk about William Carey’s Savior. I desire that Christ alone might be magnified.” And so with John here: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

And then what a testimony he gives us! I often say I am afraid that many of us fail to realize how fully John the Baptist entered into the blessed Truth that came by Jesus Christ. We imagine sometimes that he had very little light, very little understanding of the person of the Lord and of the full truth of redemption. But let us not forget, it was he who exclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” It was he who said, “I saw and bare witness that this is the Son of God” (John 1:29). And here in 3:31, we have this wonderful homage paid to the blessed Lord by John. He says, “He that cometh from above is above all.” John knew that He came from above. John knew He did not begin to live when He was born of the blessed Virgin Mary, and John knew of His preexistence with the Father before ever the world was. He says, “He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth.” When men speak in a spirit of pride and vanity and rivalry they are speaking as of the earth. That kind of thing belongs to the earth and not to heaven.

“He that cometh from above is above all:… and what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony” (vv. 31-32). That is, the natural man, unaided by divine grace, never receives the testimony of God. That is why we are told in the third chapter of the epistle to the Romans, “There is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (vv. 12). If you ever find a soul seeking after God, you may know it is because the Spirit of God is working in that heart. A natural man goes his own way. He is not interested in divine things. And this, by the way, might help some who are troubled and concerned.

I have often had people come to me and say, “Oh, I do long for the assurance of my salvation. I have come to Christ. I have asked God to save me. I do believe that Jesus died for me. But I am so miserable about my sins. I have no assurance. I have no peace. I have no realization that God has accepted me.” I say to people like that, “Don’t you fear, dear friend. No natural man seeks after God. The fact that you are going through all these exercises is, in itself, a proof of your regeneration.” Take a corpse lying here and put five hundredweight of lead upon the breast of that corpse. There is not a sign of distress. Why? Because the man is dead. But if you put that five hundredweight upon a living man, what then do you have? Groans of anguish, crying for deliverance. Why? Because there is life there. That is why people are so troubled about their sins. Because there is life there, divine life. God has already begun to work. Therefore, if that is your case, thank God that His Spirit has begun to work in your soul, and be persuaded “that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Now take God at His word, believe what He has said about His blessed Son and receive the peace that is rightfully yours. No natural man receives the testimony of God, but “he that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true” (John 3:33). That is faith-nothing more nor less than believing that God means what He says.

So often we put a Scripture before troubled souls and say, “Now, can’t you believe this?” And they look up and say, “Well, I am trying to believe.” Take a passage like this: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But to as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:11-43.1.12). “Don’t you want to know Jesus? Are you seeking Christ? Are you ready to receive Him? Very well, what does it say-As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the [children] of God.’ Do you receive Him?” And the answer comes, “Yes, yes, I believe I do.” “Well, then, are you a child of God?” “I don’t know, I don’t think I am. I don’t feel it. I am afraid to say that.”

Don’t you see what the trouble is? They are not taking God at His word. Sometimes we say to them, “Well, don’t you see, dear friend? You must have faith. You must believe what God has said.” And they look at you with the most amazing effrontery and say, “Well, I am trying to believe.” What an insult to God! Trying to believe whom? It is God who has spoken and you say, “I am trying to believe.” Why, I am only a frail, mortal man, but if I told you something concerning some place where I have been and you never have seen, and you looked at me and said, “That is very interesting, and I am trying to believe.” I would say, “Sir, you insult me. Do you think I am lying to you? What do you mean by saying you are trying to believe? I am telling the truth, and I expect you to believe my testimony.”

God has spoken in His Word and He expects man to receive His testimony. That is all there is to faith. It is believing what God has said. “If we receive the witness of men [and we do], the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified concerning his Son” (1 John 5:9). We believe it, and believing it, we set to our seal that God is true. “For He whom God hath sent [that is, our Lord Jesus Christ] speaketh the words of God, for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him” (John 3:34). The Spirit in all His fullness dwells in Christ, and the words that He spoke were the words of God. “The Father loveth the Son and hath given all things into his hand” (v. 35). God has decreed that the Lord Jesus shall reign as Head of this universe, because, after all, He was its Creator. It was the Word Himself that brought all things into being, and they have been created both by Him and for Him.

And now comes the greatest testimony of this section. And what a tremendous testimony it is! I am not exactly sure whether John the Baptist spoke all of these words or whether some of them, perhaps from about verse 34, are inserted in the record by inspiration through the hand of the apostle John himself. Just where the testimony of John the Baptist ends and the testimony of the writer of the gospel begins, we cannot always tell. But, at any rate, if we take verse 36 as spoken by John the Baptist, it is a marvelous testimony, or if we take it as penned directly by the apostle John under divine inspiration, still it comes to us as the very word of the living God.

We noticed that verse 18 divided all mankind who have heard the gospel into two groups. This does not take in the heathen who have never heard the gospel. They will be dealt with according to the light they have and will be judged for their own sins. Here again we have two classes. It says first, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life” (v. 36a). That is one group. “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (v. 36b). That is the other.

Let us look at the first statement for a moment or two. Could anything be clearer? Do you want to be certain that you have eternal life? Then I challenge you thus: “Do you believe on the Son of God? Do you put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you rest your soul upon Him and His finished work, that work accomplished on Calvary’s cross for our redemption? Then listen to what God Himself says: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” Now do not say, “Well, but I do not feel any different.” It does not say “He that feeleth,” but “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.”

A friend of mine, years ago, preached on that very text. At the close of the meeting, as preachers sometimes do in smaller places, he went down to the door to greet the friends. A lady troubled about her soul came along, and he reached out his hand and said to her, “Well, how is it with you tonight? Are you saved?” She said, “Oh, I don’t know, sir. I hope so.” He said, “Well, let me show you this verse, ‘He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.’ Do you believe on the Son?” “Oh, I do, sir, I do believe on Him with all my heart.” “Well, then, have you everlasting life?” “I hope so. I hope I have.” “Read the verse again.” She read it-“He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” “Do you believe on the Son?” “I do.” “Then have you everlasting life?” “I certainly hope so. I do hope so.” “Read it again, please.” She read it again-“He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” “Do you believe on the Son?” “I do.” “Have you everlasting life?” “I hope so.” “Well,” he said, “I see what the trouble is.” She said, “What is the trouble?” “Why, when you were a girl, they spelled very differently than they did when I was a boy.” She said, “What do you mean? I am not so much older than you.” He said, “When you were a girl h-a-t-h spelled hope; when I was a boy, h-a-t-h spelled hath. “She exclaimed, “Hath! ‘He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.’ Why, of course, I have it. Yes, I see it. I believe on the Son of God, and God says I have everlasting life.” And so she entered into peace.

Again, I come back to the text, “He that hath received His testimony hath set to his seal that God is true” (v. 33). A little boy said to his schoolteacher, “Faith is believing God and asking no questions.” It is just taking God at His word.

Look at the other side of that verse. It is a very solemn side to the Truth indeed. “He that believeth not the Son.” The word rendered believeth is different here. It suggests rather obedience in the Greek. “He that obeyeth not the Son.” The Son’s command is to believe. They came to Jesus and said, “What is the work of God, that we may do it?” And He said, “The work of God is to believe in the Son that was sent.” “He that [obeyeth] not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” Oh, the hopelessness of that! Oh, the horror of it! Oh, the pity of it!-that men should hear the gospel over and over again, and hear it and turn away. That men should live on rejecting and die refusing to believe on Christ, and go out into a hopeless eternity! To die without Christ!

See how this one verse cuts out by the roots the twin errors of the annihilation of the wicked and the universal salvation of all men sometime, somewhere. Take the question of universalism first. Listen to what it says: “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life.” There is no thought there of a further hope if a man dies rejecting Christ. If a man does not have Christ in this world, he will never see life. Jesus has said, “If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24). And He adds, “Whither I go, ye cannot come” (vv. 21-22; 13:33). “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life.”

But, on the other hand, there are many who think, “Even if I do live and die rejecting Christ, death will be the end to it all. I shall be utterly annihilated. There will be nothing more to me, and, therefore, I will pass out of existence and be though I had never been.” But Scripture says, “He that [obeyeth] not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” Notice the tense, abideth on him. You cannot logically couple the thought of abiding wrath with extinction of being. And so this verse solemnly warns us that if we do not put our trust in Christ in this life, the wrath of God must abide upon us in eternity.

But in order that this might never be, Jesus has died. He has settled the sin question for all who believe. God has given the record of it in His Word. The Holy Spirit has come from heaven to bear witness to it. And if you and I believe, we may know we have everlasting life.

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Bibliographical Information
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on John 3". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/isn/john-3.html. 1914.