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1 There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:
Ver. 1. A ruler of the Jews ] Either a chieftain of the Pharisees, as he was, Luke 14:1 ; or one of the Sanhedrim, one of the 70 seniors, whose learning hung in their light, 1 Corinthians 2:8 . Yet was neither learned Nathanael, nor Nicodemus, a master of Israel, excluded from Christ’s discipline (saith Joan. de Turrecremata), lest if he had admitted simple men only, it might have been thought they were deceived through their simplicity. a
a Ne si solos simplices vocasset, credi possit quod fuissent ex simplicitate decepti.
2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
Ver. 2. We know ] But will not know. Hence they became sinners against the Holy Ghost,Matthew 12:23; Matthew 12:23 , &c. The devil that commits this sin every day, is full of objective knowledge, and thence hath his name. a
No man can do these miracles ] Those magicians of Egypt, Jannes and Jambres, did but cast a mist, and beguile the sight of Pharaoh and his followers. How Tyndale hindered the magician of Antwerp, that he could not do his feats, see Acts and Monuments, fol. 985.
a Δαιμων quasi Δαημων . Plato. Miracula a diabolo edita sunt praestigiae, imposturae, phantasmata, ludibria. Bacholcer.
3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Ver. 3. Except a man be born again ] E supernis, Out of heaven, Erasm. Except a man be first unmade (as St Peter expounds our Saviour) and newly made up again, ταις αμαρτιαις απογενομενοι , 1 Peter 2:24 ; except the whole frame of the old conversation be dissolved, and a better erected, there is no heaven to be had. Heaven is too hot to hold unregenerate persons; no such dirty dog ever trampled on that golden pavement, it is an undefiled inheritance, 2 Peter 1:3 .
4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?
Ver. 4. How can a man, &c. ] He understands no more of the doctrine of regeneration (though he could not but have often read of it in Ezekiel, and elsewhere) than a common cow herd doth the darkest precepts of astronomy,1 Corinthians 2:14; 1 Corinthians 2:14 . All this is gibberish to him. Water ariseth no higher than the spring whence it came; so the natural man can ascend no higher than nature.
5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
Ver. 5. Be born of water, and the Holy Ghost ] That is, of the Holy Ghost working like water, cooling, cleansing, &c. In allusion, belike, to that first washing of a newly born babe from his blood,Ezekiel 16:4; Ezekiel 16:4 . Or else to those Levitical washings, and not without some reference to Nicodemus and his fellow Pharisees, who placed a great part of their piety in external washings, as do also the Mahometans at this day. Every time they ease nature (saith one that had been among them) they wash those parts, little regarding who stands by. If a dog chance to touch their hands, they wash presently; before prayer they wash both face and hands, sometimes the head and privates, &c.
6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Ver. 6. That which is born of the flesh, &c. ] Whole man is in evil, and whole evil in man. Quintilian saw not this, and therefore said, that it is more marvel that one man sinneth than that all men should live honestly; sin is so much against man’s nature. Many also of the most dangerous opinions of Popery (as justification by works, state of perfection, merit, supererogation, &c.) spring from hence; that they have slight conceits of concupiscence, as a condition of nature. Yet some of them (as Michael Bains, professor at Lovain, &c.) are sound in this point.
7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
Ver. 7. Marrel not, &c. ] viz. Through unbelief, for otherwise it is a just wonder, far beyond that of a natural birth, which, but that it is so ordinary, would surely seem a miracle; Miracula assiduitate vilescunt.
8 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.
Ver. 8. The wind bloweth, &c. ] Libero et vago impetu. Watch, therefore, the gales of grace; we cannot purchase this wind (as sailors in Norway are said to do) for any money. This hawk, when flown, will not easily be brought to hand again.
9 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?
Ver. 9. How can these things be? ] Christ had told him that the manner of the Spirit’s working is incomprehensible, and yet he is at it, How can these things be? Sed scribo haec frustra (saith Luther in a certain letter of his to Melancthon) quia tu secundum philosophiam vestram, has res ratione regere, hoc est, ut ille ait, cum ratione insanire pergis.
10 Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?
Ver. 10. Art thou a master, &c. ] The Pharisees and philosophers, for their learning, are called "princes of this world," 1 Corinthians 2:8 . And yet, had they known, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory. Indocti rapiunt coelum, &c. The poor are gospelized, ευαγγελιζονται , Mat 11:5 not only receive it, but are changed by it. But Bellarmine cannot find in all the Bible where remission of sin is promised to such as confess their sins to God; Promissio de remittendis peccatis eis qui confitentur Deo non videtur ulla extare in divinis literis. (Bell. de Justif. i. 21.)
And knowest not these things ] Carolostadius was eight years doctor when he began to read the Scriptures, whereof he had very little understanding; and yet at the taking of his degree he had been pronounced sufficientissimus.
11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.
Ver. 11. Ye receive not our witness ] Our Saviour joins himself with the prophets (whose writings Nicodenms had read so negligently), and takes it for a dishonour that he should have written for men the great things of his law, and they continue strangers thereto, Hosea 8:12 .
12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?
Ver. 12. If I have told you earthly things ] That is, spiritual things under earthly gross similitudes, of wind, water, &c. In the mystery of Christ, the best of us are acute obtusi. But for the natural man, that cannot tell the nature of the wind, or enter into the depth of the flower or the grass, &c., how should he possibly have the wit to enter into the deep things of God, especially if darkly delivered?
13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.
Ver. 13. And no man hath ascended, &c. ] Objection. Therefore all but Christ are shut out of heaven. Solution. The Church and Jesus make but one Christ, caput et corpus unus Christus, 1 Corinthians 12:12 . He counts not himself full without his members, who are called the "fulness of him that filleth all,"Ephesians 1:23; Ephesians 1:23 .
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
Ver. 14. And as Moses lifted up the serpent ] There it was, Vide et vive; See and live, here, Crede et vive. Believe and live, And as there, he that beheld the serpent, though but with a weak squint eye, yea, but with half an eye, was cured. So here, if we look upon Christ with the eye, though but of a weak faith, we shall be saved. Doctor Cruciger, when he lay a dying, cried out, Credo languida fide, sed tamen fide, I believe with a weak faith, but with a faith, such as it is. (Selneccer. in paedag. Christ. p. 321.)
15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
Ver. 15. That whosoever believeth ] Faith is the soul’s hand ( fidei mendica manus, saith Luther); foot, whereby we come to Christ; mouth ( hic credere est edere, saith Austin); wing, whereby we soar up and fetch Christ into the heart, John 6:35-36 .
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.
Ver. 16. God so loved the world ] This is a sic so without a sicut, just as , there being nothing in nature wherewith to parallel it. The world, that is, all mankind fallen in Adam. This the apostle fitly calleth God’s philanthropy, Titus 3:4 , it being a sweet favour to the whole kind of us that any are saved by Christ.
17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
Ver. I7. Not to condemn the world ] Unless it be by accident, because they will not be saved; they will not have heaven upon Christ’s terms, they will not part with their fat and sweet (with the vine in Jotham’s parable, Jdg 9:13 ), no, not for a kingdom; they will not be constrained to live happily, reign eternally. a
a At Paris ut vivat regnetque beatus Cogi posse negat. Hor. Epist. 2.
18 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.
Ver. 18. Is condemned already ] The sentence is passed, the halter about his neck; there wants no more than to turn him off the ladder of life, and he is gone for ever. In the meanwhile he hangs but by one rotten twined thread over hell fire.
Because he hath not believed ] He saith not, because he hath committed adultery, murder. There is no righteousness now but of faith; no sin (saith one) but from unbelief; for thy sins against the law are not imputed unto thee, if thou do but believe the gospel. It is unbelief that shuts a man up close prisoner in the law’s dark dungeon, whence faith only can fetch us out, συγκεκλεισμενοι , Galatians 3:23 .
19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
Ver. 19. This is the condemnation ] This is hell above ground and aforehand. Affected ignorance is the leprosy in the head, which makes a man undoubtedly unclean and utterly to be excluded, Leviticus 13:44 .
20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
Ver. 20. For every one that doeth evil ] As the Ethiopians are said to curse the sun for its bright and hot shining. (Herodot.) Christ came a light into the world; his gospel hath appeared as a beacon on a hill, or as the sun in heaven, επεφανη , Tit 2:12 his saints shine as lamps, &c. Now when men hate these, as thieves do a torch in the night, and fly against the lights as bats do, this is condemnation.
21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.
Ver. 21. But he that doeth truth ] Tenebriones Papistae male sibi conscii, aeternum atri, et tetri sunto, et habentor, gui non tam cute, quam corde Aethiopici, solem quo magis luceat, eo magis execrentur. But our hearts (as our climate) have mere light than heat. Sir Philip Sydney used to say of Chaucer, that he wondered how in those misty times he could see so clearly; and how we in these clearer times go on so stumblingly. "If any be ignorant, let him be ignorant," saith Paul, 1 Corinthians 14:38 . And so much any one knows, as he does of God’s will, as the apostle intimates, when he tells us that "Christ knew no sin," that is, he did none, 2 Corinthians 5:21 .
Wrought in God ] Right. 1. Quoad fontem, a pure heart. 2. Quoad finem, the glory of God. Else they are but splendida peccata, sins in a silken suit. (Aug.)
22 After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized.
Ver. 22. And baptized ] Wherever we are we must be doing. If Moses may not do justice in Egypt, he will do it in Midian, Exodus 2:14-17 . I had rather be sick, said Seneca, than out of employment, Malim mihi male esse quam molliter.
23 And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized.
Ver. 23. And John also was baptizing ] Here ministers may learn not to be wanting to their duties, though God stir up others about them of greater parts and better success to obscure them. Verbi minister es, hoc age, was Mr Perkins’ motto. Summum culmen affectantes, satis honeste vel in secundo fastigio conspiciemur, saith Columella. And, prima sequentem, honestum est in secundis, tertiisve consistere, saith Cicero. Every man cannot excel, nor is it expected.
24 For John was not yet cast into prison.
Ver. 24. Cast into prison ] The primitive bishops were found more frequently in prisons than palaces. Bocardo became a college of Quondams, a as the Marian martyrs merrily called it. If Petronius could tell Caesar that he had rather be with Cato in the prison house than with him in the senate house; why should it grieve any to suffer bonds with and for Christ? Chrysostom had rather be Paul a prisoner of Jesus Christ than Paul rapped up into tbe third heaven. (Homil. in Eph 3:1 ) Μετα Κατωνος εν οικηματι, μαλλον η μετα σου ενταυθα ειναι βουλομαι . (Dio Cass.)
a The former holder of some office or position; one who has been deposed or ejected; ŒD
25 Then there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying.
Ver. 25. And the Jews ] Who joined themselves to John’s disciples, craftily and maliciously, that they might both set against Christ; like as the Jesuits at this day will cunningly comply with the Lutherans, and seem to side with them, that they may both set against the Calvinists.
About purifying ] That is, baptism, called elsewhere the laver of regeneration, Titus 3:5 , and by a Father, ‘ Αλεξιτηριον καθαρτικον , a purging preservative. "Not the putting away of the filth of the flesh," saith Peter, but a better thing, 1 Peter 3:21 .
26 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.
Ver. 26. Rabbi, he that was with thee ] They envied for John’s sake, as Joshua did for Moses, and with as little thank. John would have been glad they had gone after Christ, as Andrew did. Howsoever, it was good news to John that Jesus was so frequented and busied.
27 John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.
Ver. 27. A man can receive nothing ] There is much in this word "man," as Beza thinks, to set forth the most miserable indigence of all mankind by nature. a The Greeks, when they set forth one miserable indeed, they call him τρισανθρωπον , thrice a man.
a Videtur hominis appellatio magnum habere momentum.
28 Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him.
Ver. 28. Ye yourselves bear me witness ] I should rather choose the just commendation of one good man (saith Rolloc upon this text) than the foolish admiration of a whole multitude, Equidem pluris fecerim iustam commendationem, &c. Demetrius hath good report of the truth itself, that is enough for him, 3 John 1:12 .
29 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.
Ver. 29. The friend of the bridegroom ] Such is every faithful minister,2 Corinthians 11:2; 2 Corinthians 11:2 , whose office is to woo for Christ, and not (as some) to speak one word for him and two for himself. This is foul play.
30 He must increase, but I must decrease.
Ver. 30. He must increase, but, &c. ] And this was John’s great joy. That man hath true light that can be content to be outshined by others; and nothing will more try a man’s grace than questions of emulation. Ezekiel can commend Daniel his contemporary, matching him with Noah and Job for his power in prayer, Ezekiel 14:14 . And Peter highly praiseth Paul’s epistles, though he had been publicly reproved by him at Antioch, 2 Peter 3:15 ; Galatians 2:11 . Yes., Plato called Aristotle αναγνωστην and νουν , the intelligent reader. And Aristotle is said to have set up an altar in honour of Plato, with this inscription, -
" Nulla ferent talem secla futura virum. "
But Luther sbowed himself so much discontented at the reformation wrought at Wittenberg in his absence, by Carolostadius, because it was done without him, that he doubted not to approve those things, that till then he had disapproved, and to disapprove what before he had approved of. So hard it is for a man willingly and gladly to see his equals lifted over his head in worth and opinion. Self-love makes men unreasonable, and ever teacheth them to turn the glass to see themselves bigger, others lesser, than they are.
31 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.
Ver. 31. He that cometh, &c. ] Hitherto Christ hath been compared with John. In the rest of the chapter he stands compared, first, with all men; secondly, with the faithful, and infinitely preferred before them all. "He is the chief of ten thousand," Song of Solomon 5:10 ; or the standard-bearer, which ever are the goodliest.
Is earthy ] Terra est, so Augustine renders it, in the same sense as "he is flesh," John 3:6 . God will smite this "earth with the rod of his mouth," Isaiah 11:4 .
Speaketh of the earth ] As ducklings have always their bills in the mud, as swine are ever rooting in the mire; like that fish in the Gospel, either dumb, or nothing but gold in their mouths.
32 And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony.
Ver. 32. No man receiveth ] i.e. None to speak of; comparatively none. Rari quippe boni, Few obviously are good, saith Juvenal. Rari sunt qui philosophantur, There are few who are philosophers, saith Ulpian the lawyer. Perraro grati reperiuntur, Very rare are pleasing men discovered, said Cicero the orator. All men have not faith, saith the apostle, 2 Thessalonians 3:2 ; no, not of those that profess the faith. Though a gun be discharged at a whole flight of birds, there are but a few killed. Though the net be spread over the whole pond, but a few fishes are taken; many thrust their heads into the mud and the net passeth over them; so most hearers do busy their heads with their own sensual or worldly thoughts, and so escape the power of the word.
33 He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true.
Ver. 33. Hath set to his seal, &c. ] Hath given God a testimonial, such as is that, Deuteronomy 32:4 . After which, God also sets his seal ( quasi in red-hostimentum ) to the believer, Ephesians 1:13 .
34 For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him .
Ver. 34. Speaketh the words of God ] This the true believer is convinced of; and therefore sets to his seal, as to an undoubted truth. He is fully persuaded, as St Luke was, Luke 1:1 .
35 The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand.
Ver. 35. The Father loveth the Son ] Therefore faith may have firm footing. God hath laid help upon one that is mighty, Psalms 89:19 , that our faith and hope may be in God,1 Peter 1:21; 1 Peter 1:21 .
36 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.
Ver. 36. Hath eternal life ] 1. In promisso. In promise. 2. In pretio. In reward, 3. In primitiis. In beginnings. He stands already on the battlements of heaven, he hath one foot in the porch of paradise.
He that believeth not ] There is a two-fold unbelief, one in the understanding, and is opposed to faith, απιστια ; the other in the will and lives, and is opposed to obedience, απειθεια , Hebrews 8:10 . For cure of both, God hath promised to write his laws both in the minds of his people and in their hearts too.
The wrath of God abides upon him ] μενει , as in its mansion-place, as upon its basis, tanquam trabali clave fixa, saith one; there it nestles, settles, and never will away. The unbeliever can neither avoid it nor abide it.
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Trapp, John. "Commentary on John 3". Trapp's Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany