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Bible Commentaries
John 3

Hawker's Poor Man's CommentaryPoor Man's Commentary

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Verse 1


Christ hath a conversation with Nicodemus. The Lord discourseth on the New-birth; and declares its absolute Necessity, for an Entrance into his Kingdom. Some further Account of John the Baptist.

Verses 1-8

There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: (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. (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. (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? (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. (6) That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (7) Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. (8) The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou heareth the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is everyone that is born of the Spirit.

We can never be sufficiently thankful to our adorable Lord, for this blessed discourse of his, upon the important doctrine of regeneration, or the new birth; neither to the person and grace of God the Holy Ghost, in causing it to be so circumstantially recorded. Lord! give to thy people a clear apprehension of the precious truth itself and of their personal interest in it.

I not only admire the very sweet and engaging manner in which the Lord hath explained the subject; but that he should make choice of a Pharisee to explain it, by way of conveying it to his Church. A Pharisee, had all the high notions of self-righteousness; and considering himself as a true descendant of Abraham after the flesh, he concluded, that this gave a legal right to all the promises of God. And in the case of Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, one of the Sanhedrim, and a master in Israel, no doubt he stood among the highest Order of that leading class of people.

Jesus, hath so very plainly stated, both the principles of the new birth, and the effects which follow; that there can need, when taught of God, nothing more than an attention to our Lord's own words, to enter into a full apprehension of the subject. By the birth of nature, involved in the Adam-fall of sin and transgression, the, Church of Christ, as well as the whole world at large, is born in a polluted, carnal, and ungodly state. So that there must be a new birth by grace, and which the glorious Covenant of Redemption hath secured for the whole seed of Christ, to bring forth into a new and spiritual life. Without this saving change passing upon the sinner, there can be no possibility of entering the kingdom of God. From a grace-union with Christ, given by God the Father, before all worlds, to the Church, (Ephesians 1:4 ) this interest in the adoption-character of children is secured; and by the act of regeneration, wrought by God the Holy Ghost upon the soul, a meekness for grace here, and glory hereafter, is accomplished.

But plain as this statement is, to every truly regenerated child of God, who is himself an happy partaker of the unspeakable mercy; every carnal man, like this Pharisee, with whom our Lord conversed on the subject, will cry out, how can these things be? But so hath the Holy Ghost taught us to expect. The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things. 1 Corinthians 2:14-15 . Reader! this is a blessed reality, to which the whole Church of God, in heaven and earth, can and do bear witness. There is not one now among the spirits of just men made perfect in heaven, but what was once in the Adam-nature of an unawakened, carnal state: and out of which he was brought, by this sovereign work of God the Holy Ghost upon his soul. Neither is there one among the children of God in the Church upon earth, when regenerated, but what hath by the same distinguishing mercy, passed from death to life; and been translated from the power of darkness, into the kingdom of God's dear Son. John 3:14 ; Colossians 1:13 .

I must request the Reader not to overlook the beautiful similitude which the Lord made use of, for illustrating this sovereign work of God the Holy Ghost. The source of the air in nature, is altogether unknown. We see, and feel, the powerful effects of it; and that is all we know of it. The greatest philosopher, and the poorest peasant, are here upon a level. Neither of them can explain, how storms are gendered; where winds are first raised; what keep them up, and carry them on; where they retire when the blast is over; and what becomes of them when gone. Now (saith Jesus,) so is everyone that is born of the Spirit. And the figure is beautiful also on another account, in respect to the free agency of the air: The wind bloweth where it listeth. So God the Spirit displays the sovereignty of his Almighty Power, in coming; when, and where, and how; as seemeth good to his holy will and pleasure. But how is everyone who is made the happy partaker of such distinguishing mercy constrained to join the Apostle's hymn of praise, and say with him, Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift. 2 Corinthians 9:15 . On the subject of Regeneration, see Titus 3:4-5 .

If I detain the Reader one moment longer on this blessed discourse of the Lord Jesus, it shall be only to call his attention to what the Lord hath said, when declaring that, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. But what water are we to suppose that our Lord meant? Not surely the common elementary water of the earth! Would Jesus have classed this upon a level with God the Holy Ghost? Yea, have put the water in precedency before Him! One of the creatures of God before the Infinite Creator? Moreover, how can a man be said to he born of water? Born of the Spirit every new-born child of G o d is said to be: (John 1:12-13 .) but is there a possibility of what is Spiritual, being born of what is wholly natural? Can any man for a moment suppose, that such was our Lord's meaning?

Though in this, and all other questionable points, I beg to be understood as never speaking decidedly; yet I think, if the Reader will call to mind the record of John, when at the foot of the cross, he tells the Church, that he saw blood and water streaming from the body of Christ, when his sacred side was pierced by the soldier's spear; (see John 19:34-35 ) and if to this view he will add the further testimony of John which he hath given in one of his Epistles, that Christ came, by water and blood; (1 John 5:6 ) perhaps he will be inclined to think with me, that it is Christ himself, and not the elementary water of nature, which he hath joined together in his blessed scripture, of being born of water, and of the Spirit. Certain it is, that the blood of Christ is sometimes in scripture spoken of by the name of water; as in that memorable passage of Ezekiel 36:25 and that it is blood, and not water, which is intended by the expression, is evident; because, God promiseth to sprinkle it upon the people. Water is never said to be sprinkled, nor put upon the people: but Christ's blood in justification, is said to be sprinkled; and the Church is said to be come to the blood of sprinkling. Hebrews 12:24 . But when water is at any time spoken of in allusion to God the Holy Ghost, it is as a spring, not without us but within us. Hence Christ, giving this promise, saith; The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water, springing up to everlasting life. John 4:14 .

Neither can the term, of being born of water and of the Spirit, be in the smallest degree connected with the idea of water baptism. That man must be very weak in understanding, or very strong in prejudice, who for a moment can suppose, that water baptism, either in children or in adults, hath any regenerating efficacy. Surely common sense must know, that the baptism of the Holy Ghost is wholly unconnected with anything and everything, of a material nature. When the Apostles were baptised with the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost, agreeably to our Lord's most sure promise, (See Acts 1:5 .) we read of no water-baptism accompanying that divine out-pouring. And we nowhere before in the history of those men, trace the shadow of their being baptised after Jesus called them. If it be said, yes! it is probable that some of them were disciples of John the Baptist before that they followed Christ; and therefore might have been baptised by him. To which I answer: this would only tend to strengthen what I have said. For Paul, when taught of God the Holy Ghost, was instructed to inform the Church, that John's baptism never was intended to set forth more than the doctrine of repentance. It was designed, Paul saith, to lead them to Christ. For John saith, that they should believe on him, which should come after him, that is on Christ Jesus. (See Acts 19:1-6 .) Hence it must undeniably follow, that water-baptism of every kind, could not be what Jesus insisted upon, for an entrance into the kingdom of God. And, indeed, the thing itself is fully proved. For baptism by water was altogether a novel service in the Church of God, until introduced by John the Baptist. And if this became so essentially necessary, that without it there could be no entrance into God's kingdom; what became of the whole body of Old Testament saints, which never heard of it?

Is it not (for I simply ask the question) to be apprehended by what we see in life, that many, whether men or children, may be baptized with water-baptism, and yet remain everlasting strangers to the gift of the Holy Ghost. While on the other hand, others, who never knew, either of the infant or adult baptism by water; have enjoyed the blessing of regeneration, and been truly baptized with the Holy Ghost? No one I presume will venture to doubt but that the dying Thief on the cross, was made a rich partaker of the Holy Ghost, and had the baptisms of the Spirit: and yet no elementary water accompanied the blessing. But (awful to relate) Simon Magus was fully baptizsed in the due form of the Apostles' baptism, with water of the earth; and no saving work of God the Spirit was wrought in his heart: for he continued in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity. Acts 8:9-24 . But I add no more. The Lord himself be the teacher, both of the Writer and Reader, to the right apprehension of those words of Jesus.

Verses 9-21

Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? (10) Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? (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. (12) If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things? (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. (14) And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: (15) That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. (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; (17) For God sent not his Son into the world, to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (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. (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. (20) For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. (21) But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

I must not in a Poor Man's Commentary swell our pages, even though it be the words of Jesus that we are here attending to. What a lovely and sweet discourse is this of our Lord! Every verse is a sermon. But let me call the Reader's attention to those two most striking passages in the midst of it: I mean, first, of what Jesus hath said of his ascension, and descension, and everlasting presence in heaven; and, secondly, of what the Lord hath said in relation to the lifting up of the serpent in the wilderness.

The former of these passages will, I apprehend, appear very plain and obvious, if we consider the words as Christ delivered them, relating wholly to the Son of Man; that is, God-Man, Christ Jesus. No man but the God-Man, hath either ascended, or descended, in the character and office work of Jehovah's servant, to make known the Being, Perfections, and Love, of Jehovah, in his threefold character of Person, to the Church. It is He, and He only, which lay in the bosom of the Father, hath come forth to declare Him. For though Enoch and Elijah simply as men, had special tokens of divine favor, in being translated to heaven, different from the common mass of the spirits of just men made perfect; yet none but Christ could act in this high capacity, from being God and Man, in one Person, of making known Jehovah. The office was solely and properly his, and no other: Matthew 11:27 . And hence that question of Christ: John 6:62 .

And in respect to the everlasting presence of the Son of Man, as such in heaven; nothing can be plainer, than that it means, his everlasting representation in Covenant engagements there. He hath been so from the first, in the eternal counsel. The expression is similar to what is said, Proverbs 8:22-31 . Christ there, speaking in his wisdom character, saith; The Lo r d possessed me from the beginning of his ways. I was set up from everlasting. And my delights were with the sons of men. And this was said at a time, not only before the Son of God became incarnate, but before the foundations of the earth were laid. How was he then possessed? And how set up; and his delights with the sons of men? Evidently in the representation of all these grand events, planned and brought forward in the eternal counsel; and to be accomplished in the fulness of time. So that in fact, the things were as good as done, which in Jehovah's mind were determined upon. And in this sense Christ's presence as Son of Man, was everlastingly, in heaven. A similar passage we have, Colossians 1:15 , etc. See John 1:2-3 . and observations thereon. As also Poor Man's Commentary on Colossians 1:1-29 etc.--That the passage must be understood in this light, or somewhat like it, is evident from hence. For it cannot refer to the divine nature of the Son of God only; because, as God, he is everywhere present. The Lord filleth all space; and is no more present in heaven than on earth. Neither as man only, would it have been correct. For Christ in his human nature, was at that time conversing with Nicodemus upon the earth. But all difficulties are at once removed, if the expression be considered as speaking of Christ, in his high representing character, the Son of Man; the Head of his body, the Church: for here he evidently becomes that fulness which filleth all in all. Ephesians 1:22-23 .

In respect to the latter of these passages in our Lord's sermon, where Jesus speaks of the lifting up of the serpent in the wilderness; I beg the Reader to attend to the subject with that due regard so beautiful a representation of Christ in the type evidently sets forth. According to my view, it is one of the most blessed shadows of Christ in the Bible; and I have found cause, very often, to thank God the Holy Ghost for it.

For the better apprehension of the subject, I beg the Reader to remark with me, that among the several office-characters of Christ; there were two, more immediately express, and striking. The one was, that He who knew no sin, should be made sin for his people: that they, who knew in themselves no righteousness, should be made the righteousness of God in him. 2 Corinthians 5:1 . And both these the Son of God in our nature, in what is called the fulness of time, undertook to do: and hath done most completely and effectually. But before the accomplishment of Christ's undertaking, that Old Testament saints might not lose this just apprehension of New Testament blessings, the Holy Ghost was pleased to appoint, that these things should be shadowed out, in lively type, and figure. Hence the Scape-Goat was appointed on the day of atonement, to set forth the former, and the Brazen Serpent to manifest the latter: and both directly pointing to the Lord Jesus Christ, and in Him alone, to have their accomplishment. And while the Scape Goat became so very direct and pointed, that no Israelite whose eyes were opened, could overlook Christ, as bearing the sins of his people, the Brazen Serpent, the only creature of God, declared cursed at the fall, was expressly suited to prefigure Him, who bore both the weight, and displeasure, due to the sins of his Church; in the cure of God's broken law, and the indignation which became justly due thereon. And thus the Lord Jesus explains it. As the type was lifted up that the dying Israelite might look with an eye of hope to it, as God's own appointed way, and be healed: so now, the thing signified, even Christ himself which is the sole method of redemption, and appointed by Jehovah is lifted up, that the dying sinner might look to Him with an eye of faith, and be saved. Isaiah 45:22 . I hope that the Reader will be led by the Holy Ghost to enjoy with me the blessedness of this subject, explained as it is to the Church, by the Lord Jesus himself.

Verses 22-36

After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized. (23) And John also was baptizing in Enon, near to Salem; because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized. (24) For John was not yet cast into prison. (25) Then there arose a question between some of John's disciples and the Jews, about purifying. (26) And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou bearest witness; behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him. (27) John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. (28) Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. (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. (30) He must increase, but I must decrease. (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. (32) And what he hath seen and heard that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony. (33) He that hath received his testimony, hath set to his seal that God is true. (34) For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him. (35) The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand. (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.

We have here a short, but sweet sermon, of John the Baptist. And I beg the Reader to remark with me, how blessedly he preacheth Christ. How beautifully he sets him forth, as the glorious Bridegroom of his Church! What a striking distinction he draws, between the Lord Jesus and all his servants! And how could he do this as effectually, as when stating the vast difference in the gifts of the Holy Ghost. In all the servants of the Lord, the Holy Ghost was in them as portions in a vessel. To everyone of us (saith an Apostle) is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Ephesians 4:7 . In Christ, as a fountain, God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him. And let not the Reader overlook what is further said. What Christ hath seen and heard in coming from above, he testifieth; yea, he speaketh the words of God, for he is God. And all things are given unto him, as Mediator; eternal life, with all its preliminaries. Reader! pause, and think! How sure is that soul of blessedness, who hath the Son? How sure the certain consequence of misery, to everyone, which hath not the Son? For the wrath of God, not taken away by Christ, remaineth! Oh! for grace that while the Lord's people set to their seal that God is true, God the Holy Ghost may set to his seal in our souls, the seal of the promise! Ephesians 1:13 .

Verse 36


Everlasting praise to thee, my honored Lord, for the sweet and precious doctrine of the New-birth, so graciously taught thy Church, in this discourse with Nicodcmus. Oh! for the distinguishing grace of God the Spirit upon my heart, that I may have all the blessed testimonies, in the assurance of it there; that I may not only know it, in the written word, but enjoy it in the engrafted word; to make me wise unto salvation through the faith which is in Christ Jesus.

Do thou, dearest Lord, accompany those thine heavenly discourses, with thine Almighty grace; that from the words of my Lord and the commissioned discourse of his servant the Baptist, my soul may receive the truth, and the truth may make me free. Jesus hath all things in his Almighty hand. May I then Lord look to thee for all things, in grace, mercy, pardon, peace, and every New Covenant blessing here; and all the fulness of glory in Jesus, and from Jesus, to all eternity!

Bibliographical Information
Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on John 3". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pmc/john-3.html. 1828.
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