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Friday, September 29th, 2023
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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Bible Commentaries
John 3

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

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Verses 1-36

John 3:1 . Nicodemus, a ruler of the jews. This rabbi is named by John as defending our Saviour in the council, and as attending the crucifixion. A gospel of the passion and the resurrection of Christ was published under his name; and though generally reputed spurious, yet it is mentioned by Bede, and by other good authors. He is understood to have left Judea when Stephen was martyred.

John 3:3 . Except a man be born again. The jews thought, that to be of Abraham’s seed and to keep the law, was quite sufficient for admission into the Messiah’s kingdom.

John 3:5 . Born of water and of the Spirit. That is, except a man be baptized, and where there is opportunity, make an open profession of Christ, he cannot be saved. St. Paul joins both these in one: “According to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost.” Titus 3:5.

John 3:10 . Art thou a master in (of) Israel, and knowest not these things. Has not Moses taught you circumcision of heart, Deuteronomy 30:6; and have not the prophets promised a new heart, and a right spirit?

Jeremiah 31:33. Ezekiel 36:25-26. There are peculiar difficulties attending the conversion of learned and aged men. Their old opinions are enrooted, as the sentiments of their heart; and their habits are confirmed. They overlook one grand principle, that religion is better understood by the heart than by the head. Above all, an instantaneous conversion cannot be taught in schools. The simple duty of believing, and the promise are the keys of grace. Ask, and ye shall receive. Prayer, earnest prayer and pleadings with heaven, is the way to the kingdom of heaven. There is then an inward assurance of pardon, and of the divine favour to be received; or rather the all-persuasive inward witness of christianity; the earnest of every future hope, in which to the conscious mind there can be no deception. For a painted fire would not warm me, a painted feast would not feed me; but when we go to the throne of grace to ask for pardon in the Saviour’s name, the Holy Spirit comes anew into our hearts a thousand and a thousand times, as the out-breakings of the sun from behind a cloud. And is it likely that God should favour the minds of christians with those comforts in the grossest acts of idolatry, acts of idolatry in praying to the Saviour, and in contempt of the friendly admonitions of materialism? I do therefore entreat all men in doubts and temptations to cry to heaven in some such words as these. “Oh God, who hast prepared for them that love thee, such things as surpass man’s understanding, pour into our hearts such love towards thee, that we loving thee above all things, may obtain thy promises which exceed all that we can desire, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” Sixth Collect after Trinity Sunday.

John 3:13 . No man hath ascended up to heaven. On the second book of Kings, 2 Kings 2:1; 2 Kings 2:11, the LXX read, ως εις τον ουρανον , as into heaven. The jews, who made a distinction between paradise and heaven, would not allow that Elijah ascended higher than paradise. The words of Christ seem to favour this reading.

John 3:14 . As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness. Numbers 21:1. This is a fertile field for the indulgence of allegory: the similes are just and striking.

(1) The Israelites sinned with their tongues; and the hissings of the serpents, as well as the venom from their fangs were let loose against them.

(2) When they cried they found an advocate.

(3) The remedy, a sinless serpent, was infallible.

(4) It was set up in a conspicuous place.

(5) The condition of the cure was adapted to their condition; look, and be healed.

(6) The cure was instantaneous.

(7) The healing virtue did not diminish by the multitude of cures, having the inexhaustible mercy of God for its source.

(8) They who lost the opportunity perished without remedy.

(9) This was the last miracle of Moses. Thus the Saviour on the cross said, It is finished.

(10) Therefore we have proof that Jesus is the true Messiah, the only healer of sinners.

John 3:23 . John was baptizing in Enon, a place of springs, on the western shore of the JorDaniel As there was much water there, it is probable that John’s disciples assisted in baptizing the people.

John 3:31 . He that cometh from heaven is above all. He that is of the earth is but a worm of the dust, and must not be compared with the Lord of glory.

John 3:36 . He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life. John here follows the voice from heaven, which calls him the beloved Son of God. He is the life; and he that believeth in him is one spirit with his living head; and because the Saviour lives, the believer shall also live. The life of God in the soul of man is the divinity living in our hearts.

He that believeth not the Son shall not see life. ‘ Ο δε απειθων τω υιω . He who is disobedient to the Son, shall not see life. This reading superadds the happy idea of faith followed by works.


Nicodemus was a ruler of the jews, and one of the first characters resident in Jerusalem in regard to wisdom, wealth and power. He was, above all, a man of piety. He loved his God, he loved the scriptures, he loved his nation. This man investigated the miracles of Jesus with all the coolness of philosophy, and all the rigours of pharisaical scrutiny. Convinced of their reality, he justly inferred that Jesus was a teacher come from God: consequently, that if any man under heaven knew the mind of God concerning the hope and kingdom of Israel, it must be Jesus. Hence he acted a worthy part in coming to enquire; and our Saviour acted as frank a part in declaring at once, that except a man was born again he could not see that kingdom. This term, born again, or born from above, being used of proselytes only, Nicodemus did not understand it. Our Saviour therefore explained it to him, and placed it in a proper point of view, of being born of the Spirit; and this should teach ministers so to explain their doctrines that conviction and edification may attend all their sermons. In discourse we cannot, as in vision, present a landscape in a moment; we must leisurely pencil off the objects, and give a finish to the whole.

But what is the new birth, on which so great an emphasis is laid, and concerning which so many err? Here it is best to be plain and simple, and to keep to the bible. Being all born in sin, we must of necessity be born again, being by nature the children of wrath. The expression is figurative, and must be restricted to unregenerate men who turn to God. When a child is born it experiences a change from bondage to liberty, from darkness to light, from slumber to life. This birth is a change from doing our own will to do the will of God, from the habit of self-love to divine love. It is therefore not a reception of new opinions, nor a reformation of manners: it is a birth all spiritual and divine. It is an instantaneous change, wrought by the opening of heaven in the man who believes with the heart unto righteousness. It is a change immediately followed by the spirit of adoption, and all the habits of sanctifying grace. The immediate fruits are, a consciousness of pardon. 1 John 2:12. A power to cry Abba Father. Galatians 4:6. Love to God and all mankind. 1 John 4:19; 1 John 4:21. Victory over the world and sin. 1 John 5:4. In a word, according to the text, the converted man becomes a fellow-citizen of the saints, an inheritor of the kingdom of God, and an heir of glory.

When people do not understand our discourses, and on no subject are they more prone to err than on this, we must adapt them to their conceptions. Nicodemus understood this spiritual birth in the Pythagorean notion of the transmigration of souls into other bodies. Our Saviour therefore rejoined, that a man must be born of water, as a token of putting off the filth of sin; and of the Spirit, being renewed in the image of God, which is essential to an entrance into the kingdom of grace and glory.

From the wind blowing where it listeth, our Saviour has taught us, that the incomprehensible mysteries of revelation are essential objects of faith. We cannot account for the rarefaction and density of the air, yet we believe in its existence and properties. We cannot trace the connection between the volitions of the mind and the actions of the body, yet we allow the fact. Just so, the sublime and incomprehensible mysteries of faith, so sanctifying in their nature, are indeed superior, but never repugnant to reason. Hence our Lord rebuked the slowness of Nicodemus to believe, and especially as he had miracles for the support of faith.

Our Saviour discovered the perfection of wisdom in the delicate disclosure he made of his crucifixion and death. He could not plainly tell this ruler the manner in which he must leave the world; the disclosure would have been premature, and have interfered with moral liberty; but the fine allusion to the serpent, and to the greatness of God’s love in the gift of his only- begotten Son, spoken with a view to promote faith, and attain eternal life, were sufficient hints for a future day. Often, very often did Nicodemus revolve the thought, what this lifting up of the Son of man could mean; but nothing occurred to give him farther light till the crucifixion. Then, impelled by anger, grief, and love, he followed in the crowd, and fastened his eyes on the suffering object of his affection. At length the deep emotions of his soul, and the waves of passion, rolled off in a full torrent of faith. All at once the idea of the serpent recurred, and the rapture of believing transported his soul. I always, he would exclaim, I always revered him as a teacher come from God; but now I know that he is the Christ. Never did he appear so glorious in my eyes as now on that cross. Now I know what he meant by the gift of the only-begotten Son, or the Isaac immolated on the altar. Ah, diffident and sinful man, I will atone for my imprudence in coming by night. I will now confess him by day. I will trample on honour, pride, and the fear of man. I will bring a hundred pounds weight of gum, cassia, and myrrh. I will embalm him as the Lord’s anointed, the prince of David’s house. I will never more be ashamed of virtue despised, and of the counsel of God for the redemption of man. May we, in like manner, have our lukewarmness removed by frequent meditations on all the circumstances of our Saviour’s passion, and by a full view of the glory of man’s redemption.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on John 3". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/john-3.html. 1835.
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