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THE NATURE AND NECESSITY OF REGENERATION
John 3:3. 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.
AS there is an essential distinction between divine and human knowledge, so is there a very great difference in the ways by which each of them is to be obtained; the one being attainable only by rational investigation, the other only by faith. Reason indeed must judge whether such or such things be revealed; but when that point is clearly ascertained, faith must receive the truth simply on the authority of God; and that too, no less when it lies beyond the sphere of our reason, than when it may easily be comprehended by it. The manner in which revealed truths are inculcated seems to imply this; for the prophets enforced their declarations, not with arguments, but with, “Thus saith the Lord:” and our Saviour, with an authority which none but himself ever presumed to exercise, and which strongly marked his equality with the Father, disdained to use any other confirmation than that of his own assertion: this appears, as in numberless other passages, so particularly in his conversation with Nicodemus; when, instructing him in the mysterious doctrine of regeneration, he required a full assent to it upon the testimony of his own word. May we bow to his authority, while we consider,
The nature of regeneration—
The mistakes which very generally obtain respecting this subject being first rectified, the truth will be more clearly seen—
Many suppose that baptism is the same with regeneration—
[In the early ages of Christianity these terms were often used as synonymous, because it was taken for granted that none but truly regenerate persons would submit to a rite which engaged them to separate themselves from an ungodly world, and exposed them to the most imminent peril of their lives. But there is a wide difference between the two; regeneration being absolutely necessary to salvation, while baptism, as in the case of the dying thief, may under some circumstances be dispensed with. Besides, it was doubtless the great design of our Lord and his Apostles to regenerate and convert men: but were they so intent on administering the rite of baptism? Our Lord, we are told, “baptized no man;” and it is said of Paul, that “God sent him not to baptize;” yea, he himself “thanks God that he had baptized none but Crispus and Gaius:” but if he had regenerated none other, would he have thought that a proper ground for thanksgiving? Again, if baptism and regeneration be the same thing, we may use them altogether as synonymous terms: now it is said that “Whosoever is born of God overcometh the world [Note: 1 John 5:4.],” and that “he neither doth sin nor can sin, because he is born of God [Note: 1 John 3:9.].” But if we should say the same of all that are baptized, would not the worldly and sinful lives of many flatly contradict us? It appears then from the superior importance of regeneration, from the design of Christ and his Apostles respecting it, and from the properties ascribed to it in Scripture, that it neither is, nor can be, the same with baptism. Baptism is an outward work of man upon the body; regeneration is an inward work of God upon the soul.]
Others think that regeneration imports no more than an outward reformation, or at most, a partial change of the inward man—
[But can we conceive that, when a ruler of the Jews came to our Lord, acknowledging him to be a teacher sent from God, and desiring to be instructed in those things which he was come to reveal, our Lord would tell him that wicked men could not be saved without reforming their lives? Did Nicodemus need such information as that? Or, if this was all that our Lord meant, would this teacher in Israel have been so astonished at it? And would not our Lord have instantly rectified his misapprehension, and shewn him that there was no cause for astonishment? Can we imagine that our Lord would have confirmed the mistake, by representing this doctrine as an incomprehensible mystery, which man can no more fathom, than he can ascertain the hidden causes, or mark the exact boundaries, of the wind? Yea, would he have left this man so bewildered, saying, How can these things be! if he had meant no more than, that a wicked man must reform his life? Nor is it less evident that regeneration does not consist in a partial change even of the inward man. To what purpose should we boast of having experienced the illumination of Balaam [Note: Numbers 24:4.], the humiliation of Ahab [Note: 1 Kings 21:29.], the confession of Judas [Note: Matthew 27:4.], the faith of Simon Magus [Note: Acts 8:13; Acts 8:21; Acts 8:23.], the confidence of the unbelieving Jews [Note: John 8:41-42.], the attention of Ezekiel’s auditors [Note: Ezekiel 33:31.], the reformation of Herod [Note: Mark 6:20; Mark 6:27.], or (what perhaps includes all these together) the promising appearance of the stony-ground hearers [Note: Matthew 13:20-21.], if, like them, we rest in any partial change? Surely, if our righteousness exceed not theirs, we cannot hope that we shall be happier than they in our final doom.]
In opposition to all such erroneous notions, the Scripture itself defines regeneration to be “a new creation, wherein old things pass away, and all things become new [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:17.].”
[The author of this work is the Holy Spirit, who by a supernatural agency renews our inward man, and makes us partakers of a divine nature [Note: 2 Peter 1:4.]. Our faculties indeed remain the same as they were before; but there is a new direction given to them all. Our understanding is enlightened, so that we behold ourselves, and Christ, and the world, yea, every thing else too, in a very different light from what we ever did before [Note: Acts 2:37-47.] — — — Our will is changed, so that instead of following, or even desiring to follow, our own way, we surrender up ourselves altogether to God’s government, saying most unfeignedly, Not my will, but thine be done [Note: Acts 9:6.] — — — Our affections also are exercised in a very different manner from what they were before, so that, instead of being called forth principally by the things of time and sense, they are set upon things spiritual and eternal [Note: Colossians 3:2.] — — — We say not that this change is perfect in any man, (for there still are sad remains of the old and corrupt nature even in the best of men; the leprosy is never wholly removed till the walls be taken down.) But the change is universal in all the faculties, and progressive throughout our lives: nor can it be effected by any efforts of man, or by any other power than that of God [Note: John 1:13.].]
As the Scriptures give this extensive view of regeneration, so they fully declare,
The necessity of it—
“The kingdom of God” sometimes imports the kingdom of grace on earth, and sometimes the kingdom of glory in heaven. Indeed both are one and the same kingdom, subject to the same Head, composed of the same members, and governed by the same laws: grace is glory begun; glory is grace consummated. But for the purpose of illustrating our subject, we observe that, without regeneration,
We cannot enter into God’s kingdom of grace—
[There are many duties to be performed, and many privileges to be enjoyed, by the subjects of God’s spiritual kingdom, which an unregenerate man can neither perform nor enjoy. Who can doubt whether it be our duty to “repent in dust and ashes,” to “live by faith on the Son of God,” or to “crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts?” But can an unregenerate man do these things? We acknowledge that he may restrain in many respects his outward conduct; but can he root out from his heart the love of the world, and the love of sin? Can he truly lothe and abhor himself as well for the unhallowed corruptions of his heart, as for the grosser transgressions of his life? As well may he attempt to create a world as to effect these things by any power of his own. Again; it is the Christian’s privilege to enjoy that “peace of God which passeth all understanding,” to “abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost,” and to be transported with that “joy which is unspeakable and full of glory.” But can an unregenerate man possess that peace, when his iniquities are not forgiven? Can he look forward with delight to the coming of the day of Christ, when all his desires and pursuits terminate in this lower world? Can he be so elevated with holy joy, when there is nothing in his state which does not rather call for rivers of tears? But if any one doubt what answer he must return to these questions, let him go to his chamber, and see whether he be competent to form his mind to these sublime employments; and he will soon find that no power but that which created our souls at first, can form them anew after the Divine image.]
We cannot enter into the kingdom of glory—
[There is a meetness for the heavenly inheritance [Note: Colossians 1:12.], which every one must attain, before he can enjoy the felicity of the saints in light. As, on earth, no occupation can afford us pleasure, if we have not an inward taste and relish for it, so, in heaven, we must have dispositions suited to the state of those above. But where is this disposition to be obtained, if not in this life? Can it be thought that there shall be “repentance in the grave,” and that we shall become regenerate in a future state? Shall he, who never supremely loved his God, become at once inflamed with devout affection towards him? Shall not he, who never was renewed after the Divine image, rather behold with dread and horror the holiness of God, and tremble at the sight of that Lamb, whose dying love he despised, and whose blood he trampled under foot? Shall he, who never sought one hour’s communion with God in secret, delight to have no other employment to all eternity? No; “as the tree falleth, so it lieth;” “he that was unjust will be unjust still; and he that was filthy will be filthy still.” As there is this reason on the part of man, so is there a still more cogent reason on the part of God. God has declared, with repeated and most solemn asseverations, that “except a man be born again, he shall never enter into his kingdom.” And has he spoken thus merely to alarm us? “Is he a man that he should lie, or the son of man that he should repent?” Will he dishonour himself to favour us? Will he violate the rights of justice, holiness, and truth, in order to save those, who, to their dying hour, rejected and despised his proffered mercy? If all the world tell you that you shall be admitted into heaven, believe them not: for the Judge of quick and dead has with the strongest possible asseverations declared, you never shall. Let us not then deceive ourselves with such vain hopes: for they can terminate in nothing but disappointment and ruin.]
[You cannot surely be at a loss to know your real state, if you will examine candidly whether you have ever experienced such a change in your views, desires, and pursuits, as has been before described? O, let every one put home to his conscience this question, Am I born again? And know that neither circumcision, nor uncircumcision will avail you any thing, but a new creation [Note: Galatians 6:15.]. You must be born again, or perish — — —]
[St. Peter, writing to such persons under the severest persecution, begins his Epistle with congratulations [Note: 1 Peter 1:1; 1 Peter 1:3-4.]: and St. Paul bids us under the heaviest calamities to be thankful for renewing grace [Note: Colossians 1:11-13.]. Do ye then bless God in every state, and “shew forth the virtues of him who hath called you to his kingdom and glory [Note: Ἀρετὰς. 1 Peter 2:9.]” — — — Let your renovation be progressive; and never think that you have attained any thing as long as any thing remains to be attained.]
THE BRAZEN SERPENT A TYPE OF CHRIST
John 3:14-15. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
A MORE instructive portion of Scripture than this before us we cannot easily find. The conversation of our Lord with Nicodemus was intended to lead him to the knowledge of salvation: and, being directed to a person of his rank, and high attainments in morality, it will serve as a model for our instructions to the greatest and best of men. The first point which our Lord insisted on was the necessity of a new birth: for, whatever our attainments be, it is impossible for us to enter into heaven till this has taken place in our souls; since we brought nothing into the world with us but what is carnal; and we must possess a spiritual nature, before we can be capable of enjoying a spiritual kingdom. But besides this, it is necessary also that we be interested in his atoning sacrifice: for, having once contracted guilt, we must be purged from that guilt, before we can be admitted into the Divine presence: and there is nothing but his atoning sacrifice that can avail for this. Hence our Lord, after shewing Nicodemus that he must experience a change of nature by means of a new and heavenly birth, tells him, that he must prepare to see the Messiah crucified for the sins of men, and must look to him for the healing of his soul as the dying Israelites did to the brazen serpent for the healing of the wounds inflicted by the fiery serpents in the wilderness.
The parallel which our Lord here draws between the brazen serpent and himself, represents that as the type, and himself as the antitype: and, that we may fully understand it, I will trace the resemblance,
In the occasion on which the type was instituted—
The Israelites were dying of the wounds received from the fiery flying serpents—
[They had provoked God by their murmuring and rebellion [Note: Numbers 21:4-6.] — — — and to punish them God had sent fiery serpents which they could in no wise avoid, and whose bite was mortal. To heal themselves was beyond their power. Multitudes died: and many, finding that they must die, unless God should graciously interpose for them, entreated Moses to intercede for them: and in answer to his intercession God appointed that a brazen serpent should be erected, and that by looking to it they should be healed.]
Similar to this was our state when God gave his Son to be nailed upon the cross—
[Through the agency of that old serpent the devil, sin had entered the world, and inflicted a deadly wound on every child of man. To heal ourselves was impossible. Death, eternal death, awaited us. And, as the only means of averting it, God, in tender mercy, sent his only dear Son into the world to die for us, and to save all who would look unto him for salvation.
But if there was in this respect a great resemblance between the occasions that existed for the erection of the serpent, and the exaltation of our blessed Lord upon the cross, there was also a material difference between them; the one being in answer to the prayers of men, the other being given unsolicited and unsought: the one also being appointed as a mere arbitrary ordinance, that had no suitableness to the end proposed; the other being appointed to make satisfaction for the sins of men, and to merit in our behalf the Divine favour.
In both cases, however, the occasion was the same: death was inflicted as the punishment of sin; and the remedy, the only remedy, against it, in either case, was to look to the object, proposed by God, and lifted up by man, for our relief.]
But let us contemplate the type yet more particularly,
In the end of its appointment—
The serpent was erected that all who were bitten might look unto it and live.
[An assurance was given to Moses, that all who looked to the brazen serpent should live. And so it proved, in fact. Not one who directed his eyes to it, died. However desperate his wounds might be, or however distant he might be from the object, so as scarcely to have any clear view of it at all, yet, instantly on looking to it he was healed.]
And does not the crucifixion of our Lord ensure the same benefit to those who look unto him—
[It matters not how long, or how grievously, any man may have sinned, provided he look truly and humbly to the Lord Jesus Christ as dying for him. As for the brazen serpent, it had no suitableness whatever to the end proposed. It was a mere arbitrary appointment of the Deity: and was available in that view alone. But the Lord Jesus Christ died upon the cross under the guilt of all our sins, and offered a full and perfect satisfaction for them to Divine justice. True, indeed, to the judgment of carnal reason, that also appears “foolishness;” but it was in reality the most stupendous effort of “divine power and wisdom;” and it has in itself a proper suitableness and sufficiency for the salvation of all who trust in it. We may therefore safely assure every child of man, that, if he believe in Jesus, “he shall never perish, but shall have eternal life.” Nor shall the conferring of this benefit be delayed. The sight of the brazen serpent healed instantly the dying Israelite: and so shall a sight of Jesus instantly remove the guilt of all our sins, and infuse into our souls a new and heavenly life. Nor shall the blessing ever terminate. The benefit that accrued to those who looked to the brazen serpent lasted but for a time: but that which the believer in Jesus shall receive, shall endure for ever and ever.]
Those who feel not their need of such a remedy—
[Such persons existed in the camp of Israel: but where shall one be found in our camp? Where is there one whose whole man is not impregnated with the venom of sin? If you feel it not, that only shews that your wounds are the more deep and deadly: but know assuredly, that, unless you be brought to a sense of your perishing condition, your doom is sealed; and in a little time you will perish for ever.]
Those who would substitute some other remedy in the place of Christ—
[What would have become of any man who should have persisted in devising some mode of healing himself, instead of looking to the brazen serpent? He must of necessity have died. And no other fate awaits you, if you will be substituting your own works, whether in whole or in part, in the place of Christ. Every other hope must be utterly renounced, and Christ alone be made the one object of your affiance.]
Those who desire the healing of their souls—
[Make the Israelites a pattern for yourselves. When they felt in themselves that they were dying, they sought after God through Moses their mediator; and confessed their sins, and implored mercy, and thankfully availed themselves of the proferred benefit, seeking it humbly in God’s appointed way. Thus then do ye also: seek your God through the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only mediator between God and man; and with deep contrition implore mercy at his hands: then direct your eyes to the cross on which the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified for you; and doubt not but that you shall be made monuments of his grace and mercy to all eternity. Let no doubt about his sufficiency or your own worthiness keep you from him: for he “is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him;” and “whosoever” believeth in him shall assuredly be saved [Note: Isaiah 45:22.].”]
Those who doubt whether this mode of healing will not encourage sin—
[Such doubts were entertained in the Apostle’s days: but he spurned at the idea with holy indignation: “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid.” What think you? Would an Israelite have taken one of the fiery serpents to his bosom, because he had been healed of his wounds, and because the same means of healing were yet open to him? How much less would one who has felt the bitterness of sin, cherish it any longer in his bosom, because he has obtained deliverance from its guilt and condemnation? When he reflects that nothing but the crucifixion of the Son of God could heal him, will he think lightly of his sins? Will he not rather “look on him whom his sins have pierced, and mourn, and be in bitterness, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born?” Truly this is the proper effect of faith in Christ, who, if he redeem us from guilt and condemnation, will also “purify us unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works.”]
THE LOVE OF GOD IN GIVING HIS SON FOR MAN
John 3:16. 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.
THE doctrine of our reconciliation with God through the death of his Son, is calculated to impress our minds with a deep sense of the love of Christ in undertaking for us; but, if not cautiously stated, it may give us very erroneous conceptions respecting the Father. If, for instance, we imagine that the Father needed the mediation of his Son to render him propitious, then we must ascribe all the glory of our salvation to the Son, and consider the Father merely as acquiescing in the Son’s wishes, and shewing mercy to us for his sake. But the whole plan of our salvation originated with the Father: the very gift of a Saviour was the fruit of the Father’s love; and therefore, in contemplating the wonders of Redemption, we must trace them to their proper source, the love of God the Father.
To this view of things we are led by the text; in elucidating which, we shall not form any particular arrangement, but simply take the several expressions contained in it, and use them as so many mirrors to reflect light upon one central point, the love of God the Father in sending his only-begotten Son to die for us.
Consider then, first, the Giver—
[If man confer a benefit upon his fellow-creature, we are not surprised; because there is no man so elevated, but he may need the assistance of his inferiors; nor is there any man so depressed, but he may, at some period or other, have it in his power to requite a kindness. But “God” is totally independent of us; “our goodness extendeth not to him [Note: Psalms 16:2.];” “it is no profit to him that we are righteous [Note: Job 22:2-3.]:” he would have been equally happy and glorious, though no creature had ever been formed; and he would remain so, if every creature in the universe were annihilated. How wonderful, then, was it, that he should condescend to look on us; yea, that he should take such an interest in our affairs, as to supply, at a most incalculable price, our pressing necessities! Even in this first view of his love we are lost with wonder.]
But our admiration will be greatly increased, if we reflect upon the gift—
[It was his Son, “his only-begotten Son,” whom he vouchsafed to give. It was not a creature; no, not the first of all created beings, but his co-equal, co-eternal Son [Note: Micah 5:2.]; who from eternity had been in his bosom [Note: John 1:13.], and “daily his delight [Note: Proverbs 8:22-30.].” A less gift than that would not have sufficed for our relief: and a greater, God himself was not able to bestow. In comparison of this, ten thousand angels would have been as nothing; yea, all the hosts of heaven would not have been more than a grain of sand is in comparison of the universe. Yet God, seeing our wants, “sent his own Son to be a propitiation for our sins [Note: 1 John 4:9-10.].” What manner of love was this! How “incomprehensible are its breadth and length, and depth and height [Note: 1 John 4:9-10. with Ephesians 3:18-19.]!”]
Additional lustre will be reflected on this mystery, if we consider the manner in which he bestowed this gift—
[He waited not to be solicited: indeed no creature could have asked for such a favour: the thought could not have entered into the mind of any created intelligence; nor, if it had occurred, could he have presumed to utter it. But God needed no suggestion from his creatures: his love prevented their requests [Note: God, instead of following our first parents with denunciations of wrath, gave, unsolicited, that promise, which was the foundation of hope to them and all their posterity. Genesis 3:15.]; it even provided for their wants before those wants existed, yea, before the creatures themselves had any being. He himself is love [Note: 1 John 4:16.]; and the exercise of mercy is his delight [Note: Micah 7:18.]. He neither had, nor could have, any inducement from without: all his motives were found within his own bosom: the displaying of his own unbounded love was a sufficient reason for his utmost exertions: he shewed mercy for mercy sake; and “gave,” because it was the joy of his soul to give.]
But how will this stupendous love be heightened in our esteem, if we take into consideration the persons on whom this gift was bestowed!
[It was not vouchsafed to angels, though angels needed it as much as we. This was a mercy reserved for fallen man, even for “the world” that lieth in wickedness [Note: Hebrews 2:16.]. To form an estimate of the world, let us look around us, and see to what an awful extent iniquity abounds: or, if we would have our judgment still more according to truth, let us look within our own hearts, and see what horrible abominations are harboured there. We know nothing of others, but by their words and actions: but we have a juster criterion within our own bosoms: we may search into our own thoughts and desires; we may discern the base mixture that there is in all our motives and principles of action: in short, we may see such “a world of iniquity” within us, as may well constrain us to say, with David, “My heart sheweth me the wickedness of the ungodly, that there is no fear of God before his eyes [Note: Psalms 36:1. Prayer-book translation.]:” yes, in our own hearts there is an epitome of all the evil that is in the world: and, if we know any thing of ourselves, we shall stand amazed that God should look upon such a world as this, and give his only dear Son to save those who so richly merited his hottest indignation.]
We cannot do justice to this subject, if we do not further notice God’s ultimate design in bestowing this precious gift upon us—
[We must, but for this marvellous effort of divine love, have perished in our sins. Having resembled the fallen angels in their sin, we must have resembled them also in their misery. But “God would not that we should perish.” Notwithstanding the greatness and universality of our guilt, he would not that we should suffer according to our desert; and therefore he interposed for our deliverance. But this was not all. He desired to restore us to our forfeited inheritance, and to bring us to the possession of “everlasting life.” It was not enough for him to save us from perishing; he must also renovate us after his own image, and make us partakers of his own glory. What stupendous love was this! That he should ever think of receiving such hateful creatures into his presence; that he should lay a plan for the exalting of them to thrones and kingdoms in heaven; and that he should even give his only-begotten Son out of his bosom to effect it! How infinitely does this surpass all the comprehension of men or angels!]
The condition which he has imposed for our participation of these benefits, yet further illustrates and magnifies his love—
[Suppose God had said, “Find me fifty righteous, or forty, or thirty, or twenty, or only ten, and for their sakes I will pardon and save all the rest [Note: Genesis 18:24-32.]:” we must have perished, because among the whole human, race there is “not one righteous, no, not one [Note: Romans 3:10.].”
Suppose that, instead of this, he had said, “I will give my Son to die for your past offences, and will bring you back to a state of probation; whereby, if you fall not again from your righteousness, you shall be saved:” the offer had been exceeding kind and gracious; but we should not long have reaped any solid advantage from it: we should soon have broken the covenant again, and been involved in the same misery as before.
Suppose God had said, “I foresee that a renewal of your former covenant would be to no purpose; and therefore my Son shall work out a righteousness for you; and I require nothing of you, but to add to that a righteousness of your own, that the two righteousnesses together may form a joint ground of your acceptance with me:” alas! we should have been in as deplorable a state as ever; for we never have done, nor ever can do, one single act, which, if weighed in the balance of the sanctuary, will not be found wanting.
But suppose God yet further to lower his demands, and to say, “I will give you a complete salvation through the blood and righteousness of my dear Son; and I will require nothing of you, but only to render yourselves worthy of it;” still had our state been altogether hopeless; for we can no more render ourselves worthy of such a mercy, that we can create a world.
This was well known to God; and therefore he proposed none of these things: he requires only that we should believe in his Son, and accept freely what he so freely offers. It is true, that, if even this depended on ourselves, we should perish: because without the grace of God we cannot exercise saving faith [Note: Philippians 1:29.]: but still this is the condition, which alone is suited to our helpless state; because it implies a total renunciation of all merit or strength in ourselves, and leads us to Christ, that we may find our all in him. O how does this enhance the love of God! And in what bright colours does that love appear, when viewed in the light which so many mirrors reflect upon it!]
If any thing can add to the lustre with which his love already shines, it is the extent in which the offers of these benefits are made—
[There is not a human being upon earth, who shall not be a partaker of all these benefits, if only he believe in Christ. There is no limitation, no exception: God gave his Son, that “whosoever” believeth in him should not perish. Past sins, however numerous or heinous, are no bar to our acceptance with God, if only we accept his mercy on the terms on which it is offered. This is the uniform testimony of Holy Writ [Note: Isaiah 45:22; Isa 55:1 and Rev 22:17 and John 6:37.] — — — O let us magnify God for his mercy; and be telling of the wonders of his love from day to day!]
How aggravated must be the condemnation of them that reject the Gospel!
[Our Lord says, “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, but men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil [Note: John 3:19.].” Let this sink down into our ears: for, if such love cannot melt us into contrition, and such goodness bring us to repentance, we may well expect a most accumulated weight of vengeance at the hands of an offended God.]
How groundless are the fears of many who embrace the truth!
[Many sincere Christians are troubled in mind; some on account of their temporal wants, and others on account of their spiritual necessities. But “if God has delivered up his own Son for us, will he not with him also freely give us all things [Note: Romans 8:32.]?” And “if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by his life [Note: Romans 5:10.].” These are unanswerable arguments; and they should compose our minds under trials, of whatever kind.]
How deeply should we all be affected by the love of God!
[Pungent indeed is that question, “What could I have done more for my vineyard, that I have not done [Note: Isaiah 5:4.]?” The more we consider how God has loved the world, the more we shall see, that he has indeed done all for us that he could do, consistently with our free agency, and his own honour. And when he has so loved the world, are we at liberty to forget him? Does such love call for no return? or are we to requite it only by increased impiety? O let every one of us say, “What shall I render to the Lord?” And let his love to us constrain us to devote ourselves unreservedly to him.]
THE END FOR WHICH GOD SENT HIS SON
John 3:17. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
AN expectation generally prevailed among the Jews that their Messiah would interpose on behalf of their nation alone, and bring all other kingdoms into subjection to them. Our Lord took frequent occasions to rectify this mistake, and to shew, that he was to be the Saviour, not of one people only, but of the whole world. In this discourse with Nicodemus, he introduces this important subject in such a way as to inform his mind, without shocking his prejudices. Having explained to him the nature and necessity of regeneration, and shewn him, by reference to a well-known type, the way of salvation, he declares, that the whole world, Gentiles as well as Jews, were to participate the benefits of his coming; and that God, in sending him into the world, had as much respect to the welfare of the benighted heathens as of his chosen and peculiar people. To elucidate the words before us, we shall shew,
That, supposing God to send his Son into the world, it was far more probable that he should send him to condemn the world than to save it—
That God should ever send his Son into the world at all is such a mystery as must for ever fill the whole universe with amazement. But supposing him to make known his determination to do so, the probability certainly was that it should be for our destruction rather than our salvation—
Consider what was the state of the world at the time he did send his Son—
[Had he seen the greater part of mankind lamenting their fall, wishing earnestly that some way could be devised for their recovery, and struggling, but with unsuccessful efforts, to get free from sin, we might have supposed that God would exercise mercy towards us, and open a way for our restoration through the sacrifice of his Son. But when the whole mass of mankind were up in arms against him, when not one of the whole human race (except a few whose hearts he himself had touched) desired reconciliation with him; yea, when all were utterly averse from it, and desired nothing so much as to live in sin with impunity, and wished for no better heaven than the unrestrained indulgence of their lusts; for what end could God send his Son, but to execute upon them the vengeance they deserved?]
Consider for what end God had before sent messengers from heaven—
[God had on some remarkable occasions commissioned angels to perform his will: and though, when sent to some highly-favoured individuals, they were messengers of mercy, yet, when sent to the avowed enemies of God, they were, for the most part, ministers of wrath to execute the most signal vengeance. Who can contemplate Sodom and the cities of the plain; who can call to mind the Egyptian first-born; who can survey one hundred and eighty-five thousand soldiers lying dead in the Assyrian camp; and not tremble at the thought of a messenger being sent from heaven? Suppose then we should hear that God was about to send his own Son from heaven to execute his will with respect to the whole world, and especially such a world as this; what would any one imagine, but that, as it was not a particular city or nation that God was about to punish, but a whole world, he had determined to employ his own Son; and that the judgments he was about to inflict, would be great in proportion to the power and dignity of the executioner? As for conceiving the idea that he should send his Son to save the world, it would not so much as enter into the mind of any created being.]
Consider that God certainly foreknew the way in which the world would treat his Son—
[If God had not certainly foreknown all future events, he might perhaps have reasoned thus: ‘I have sent to that wretched world my servants the prophets, and instead of attending to them they have persecuted them even unto death: but if I should send them my Son, surely they would reverence him; they would not dare to lift up a finger against him; they would be so struck with wonder at my condescension and love, that they would return instantly to their allegiance. Rather therefore than they should perish, I will send them my Son to save them.’ But God knew that instead of reverencing his Son, they would no sooner see him, than they would exclaim, “This is the heir; come let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.” He knew full well that, however manifest the credentials of his Son, and however indisputable the evidences of his divine mission, they would not believe in him, but would cast him out of the vineyard and slay him. What then must we suppose God would say on such an occasion? Surely he would speak to this effect: ‘If I could hope that they would reverence my Son, I would overlook all the injuries done to my prophets, and would even send my Son for their salvation: but I know they would all thirst for his blood; they would pluck me from my throne if they were able; and, if I should put my Son into their power, they would load him with all manner of indignities, and put him to the most ignominious death: shall I then, foreseeing these things as I do, put him into their power? No: that were unworthy of my majesty, and degrading to my Son. I may possibly send my Son; but, if I do, it shall not be to save the world, but to condemn them according to their desert.’]
These considerations fully evince the improbability that God should ever use the mediation of his Son in a way of mercy towards us. Yet we must add,
That, notwithstanding it was so improbable, God did really send his Son, not to condemn, but to save the world—
The frequency with which we hear of this stupendous mystery, prevents the surprise which the declaration of it must otherwise excite. But, whatever the ignorance of scoffers, and the pride of infidels may suggest, be it known to all, that God did send his Son,
To expiate sin—
[God knew that it was impossible for man to atone for sin — — — Yet it was also impossible that sin could be forgiven, unless an adequate atonement were offered to the Divine Majesty — — — What was to be done? The angels, even if they were willing, were not able to undertake our cause. There was but one, even in heaven, that was competent to the mighty task of appeasing incensed Majesty, and of satisfying offended justice: there was none but Jesus, the best-beloved of the Father, who from eternity had lain in his bosom. And would the Father give him? Yes; “He spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all.” “He prepared him a body,” and “sent him to be a propitiation, not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world” — — — What amazing love! Eternity will not suffice to explore and celebrate this stupendous mystery.]
To work out a righteousness for us—
[Mankind were as unable to provide for themselves a righteousness wherein they might stand before God, as they were to make an atonement for their past offences — — — But, behold, God would not leave us destitute; he gave his Son to fulfil the law which we had broken, and, “to bring in an everlasting righteousness,” “which should be unto all and upon all them that believe” — — — The name given him on this very account is, “The Lord our Righteousness.” Clothed in his unspotted robe, the vilest of returning prodigals may stand perfect and complete in the presence of their God — — — Every one of them may say, “In the Lord have I righteousness and strength.”]
To exalt us to glory—
[It was not only to begin, but to carry on and perfect our salvation, that the Father sent his Son into the world. He is to be both “the author and the finisher of our faith” — — — Having delivered our souls from the guilt of sin, and from the powers of darkness, he will raise up our bodies also from the grave, and exalt us to sit upon his throne for evermore — — — Never will he cease from his work, till he has fully and finally accomplished it on behalf of his people — — — How wonderful is this! Surely it almost exceeds belief: that, instead of condemning the world, God should send his Son to save it, to save it by laying down his own life a ransom for us, and by managing all the concerns of every one of his elect till he shall have finally established them in the possession of their heavenly inheritance! Hear, O heavens, and be astonished, O earth: yea, let all the choirs of heaven make it the everlasting subject of their highest praises — — —]
Those who are regardless of their own salvation—
[Alas! how little effect do the wonders of redemption produce on the world at large! But what an aggravation of their guilt will it be to have poured contempt upon the Son of God! Surely God’s greatest mercy will prove their heaviest curse. The very devils will have more to say on their own behalf than they. Satan himself may say, “I never had salvation offered me; I never sinned against redeeming love.” But careless sinners are daily “trampling under foot the Son of God,” who lived and died to save them. O lay this to heart, and seek an interest in him who alone can deliver you from the wrath to come.]
Those who are ready to doubt whether they ever can be saved—
[Many such there are in the Church of Christ — — — But did God send his Son to execute a work which he was not able to perform? or has Jesus discovered any backwardness to fulfil his engagements? — — — Let not any be afraid: for if a whole world is to be saved by him, he cannot but have a sufficiency to supply all our wants, provided we commit ourselves entirely to him — — —]
Those who are enjoying salvation—
[While you are reaping the blessed fruits of the Father’s love, surely you will often say, what shall I render to the Lord? If he gave up his dear Son for my salvation, shall not I give up a bosom lust for his glory? — — — Think how much you are indebted to him; and endeavour to glorify him with your body and your spirit which are his.]
MEN’S HATRED OF THE LIGHT
John 3:19-21. 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.
IT appears strange to many, that the everlasting happiness or misery of the soul should be made to depend on the exercise of faith. The declaration of our Lord, That “he that believeth shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned,” is regarded by them as a “hard saying;” they see no proportion between the work and the reward on the one hand, or between the offence and the punishment on the other. In the words before us we have a solution of the difficulty. We are taught that faith and unbelief are not mere operations of the mind, but exercises of the heart; the one proceeding from a love to what is good; the other from a radical attachment to evil. Our blessed Lord had repeatedly inculcated the necessity of believing in him, in order to a participation of his proffered benefits. He had also represented unbelievers as “already condemned,” even like criminals reserved for execution. To obviate any objection which might arise in the mind of Nicodemus in relation to the apparent severity of this sentence, he proceeded to shew the true ground of it, namely, That, in their rejection of him, men are actuated by an invincible love of sin, and by a consequent hatred of the light which is sent to turn them from sin.
In opening the words of our text, we shall shew,
What is that light which is come into the world—
Christ is called “The light of the world,” “The true light,” “The Day-star,” and “The Sun of righteousness that arises with healing in his wings.” But,
It is the Gospel which is here said to have “come into the world”—
[The glad tidings of salvation were now published by Christ himself; and both the manner in which that salvation was to be effected, and the manner in which it was to be received, were clearly revealed. Our blessed Lord had in this very discourse with Nicodemus declared, that “the Son of Man was to be lifted up upon the cross, as the serpent had been in the wilderness,” in order that all who were dying of the wounds of sin might look to him and be healed. He had repeated again and again this important truth, on which the salvation of our fallen race depends. This mystery had from eternity been hid in the bosom of the Father; but now it was made fully manifest. This “light was now come into the world.”]
The Gospel, in this view of it, is fitly designated under the metaphor of “light”—
[Light is that, without which no one thing can be discerned aright. And how ignorant are we, till the light of the Gospel shines in our hearts! We know nothing of ourselves, of God, of Christ, or of the way to heaven. We cannot even appreciate the value of the soul, the importance of time, the emptiness of earthly vanities. We may indeed give our assent to the statements which we hear made upon these subjects; but we cannot have an experimental and abiding sense, even of the most obvious truths, till our minds are enlightened by the Gospel of Christ.
Light causes all other things to be seen in their true colours. Thus does also the Gospel: in setting forth the Son of God as dying for our sins, it shews us the malignity of sin; the justice of God which required such an atonement for it; and, above all, the wonderful love of God in giving us his only dear Son, in order that we might have peace through the blood of his cross.
Light carries its own evidence along with it. Thus does also that glorious Gospel of which we are speaking: it is so peculiarly suited to the necessities of man, and at the same time so commensurate with his wants; it is so calculated to display and magnify all the perfections of the Deity, and is in every respect so worthy of its Divine Author; that it commends itself to us instantly as of heavenly origin, the very masterpiece of Divine wisdom.]
One would imagine that such light should be universally welcomed: but since this is not the case, we shall proceed to shew,
Whence it is that men reject it—
It is but too evident, that, as in former ages, so now also, men reject the light. But whence does this arise? It is not because they have any sufficient reason to reject it—
[If there were any thing in the Gospel that rendered it unworthy of men’s regard, they would have some excuse for rejecting it. But,
They cannot say that it is inapplicable in its nature.—We will appeal to the world, and ask, What is there, that guilty and helpless sinners would desire? Would they wish for a Saviour? Would they be glad that the whole work of salvation should be committed into his hands? Would they be especially desirous that nothing should be required of them, but to receive with gratitude, and improve with diligence, what the Saviour offers them? In short, would they be glad of a free and full salvation? This is precisely such a salvation as is provided for them in the Gospel.
They cannot say that it is inadequate in its provisions.—If the Gospel brought salvation to those only who were possessed of some amiable qualities, or to those who had committed only a certain number of offences; if it made any limitation or exception whatever in its offers of mercy; if it provided pardon, but not strength, or grace to begin our course, but not grace to persevere; if, in short, it omitted any one thing which any sinner in the universe could need, then some persons might say, ‘It is not commensurate with my necessities.’ But we defy the imagination of man to conceive any case which the Gospel cannot reach, or any want which it cannot satisfy.
They cannot say that it is unreasonable in its demands.—It does indeed require an unreserved surrender of ourselves to God: and on this account it appears to many to be strict and severe. But let any one examine all its prohibitions and all its commands, and he will find them all amounting in fact to these two; “Do thyself no harm;” and, “Seek to be as happy as thy heart can wish.” If there be any thing in the Gospel which bears a different aspect, it is owing entirely to our ignorance of its real import. The more thoroughly the Gospel is understood, the more worthy of acceptation will it invariably appear.]
The only true reason is, that they “hate the light”—
[Till men are truly converted to God, “their deeds are universally evil;” yea “every imagination of the thoughts of their hearts is evil, only evil, continually.” Now the Gospel is a light which shews their deeds in their proper colours.
It reproves their ways.—They have been “calling good evil, and evil good; and putting bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.” In reference to these things, it undeceives them. It declares plainly, that they who do such things as they have done, and perhaps have accounted innocent, shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
Ii mortifies their pride.—It not only shews them that they are obnoxious to the wrath of God, but that they are incapable of averting his displeasure by any thing which they themselves can do. It brings down the proud Pharisee, and places him on a level with publicans and harlots. It requires every man to acknowledge himself a debtor to divine grace for every good thing that he either has or hopes for. All this is extremely humiliating to our proud nature.
It inculcates duties which they are unwilling to perform.—Humility and self-denial, renunciation of the world and devotedness to God, enduring of shame and glorying in the cross; these, and many other duties, it enjoins, which to our carnal and corrupt nature are hateful in the extreme: yet the Gospel inculcates them with a strictness not to be lowered, a plainness not to be misinterpreted, and an authority not to be withstood.
These, these are the grounds on which the Gospel is rejected. If it would admit of persons following their own ways, or of their accommodating its precepts to their own views or interests, they would give it a favourable reception. But as it requires all to be cast into the very mould which it has formed, and will tolerate not the smallest wilful deviation from its rules, it is, and must be, odious in the eyes of the ungodly: “they love darkness rather than it; nor will they come to it, lest their deeds should be reproved.”]
A just view of these things will prepare us for contemplating,
Their guilt and danger in rejecting it—
Doubtless every kind of sin will be a ground of “condemnation.” But men’s hatred of the light is that which chiefly, and above all other things,
Aggravates their guilt—
[The Gospel is a most wonderful provision for the salvation of fallen man. It is the brightest display of Divine wisdom, and the most stupendous effort of Divine goodness. The rejection of this therefore, especially as proceeding from a hatred of it, argues such a state of mind as no words can adequately express. The malignity of such a disposition rises in proportion to the excellence of the Gospel itself. We presume not to weigh the comparative guilt of men and devils, because the Scriptures have not given us sufficient grounds whereon to institute such a comparison: but the guilt of those who reject the Gospel far exceeds that of the heathen world: the wickedness of Tyre and Sidon, yea, of Sodom and Gomorrha, was not equal to that of the unbelieving Jews: nor was the guilt of those Jews, who rejected only the warnings of the prophets, comparable to that of those who despised the ministry of our Lord. In like manner, they who live under the meridian light of the Gospel in this day will have still more, if possible, to answer for, than the hearers of Christ himself; because his work and offices are now more fully exhibited, and more generally acknowledged. And in the day of judgment the Gospel will be as a millstone round the neck of those who rejected it: not having been a savour of life unto their salvation, it will be a savour of death unto their more aggravated condemnation.]
Insures their punishment—
[If men did not hate the Gospel itself, there would be some hope that they might in due time embrace it, and be converted by it. If they would even come to the light in order that the true quality of their works might be made manifest, then we might hope that they would be convinced of their wickedness, and be constrained to flee from the wrath to come. But when they dispute against the truth, and rack their invention in order to find out objections against it; when they indulge all manner of prejudices against the Gospel; when they withdraw themselves from the ministry of those who faithfully preach it, and say, as it were, to their minister, “Prophesy unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits;” what hope can there be of such persons? Their hearts are so hardened, that it is scarcely possible to make any impression upon them: if a ray of light do shine into their minds, they will endeavour to extinguish it as soon as possible; they will go to business, to pleasure, to company, yea, to intoxication itself, in order to stifle the voice of conscience, and to recover their former delusive peace. Alas! they are not only perishing of a fatal disorder, but they reject with disdain the only remedy that can do them good: they therefore must die, because they persist in drinking of the poisonous cup that is in their hands, and dash from their lips the only antidote and cure.]
In so saying, thou reprovest us—
[Behold! we declare unto you, that light, even the glorious light of the Gospel of Christ, is now come into the world — — —
Ye lovers of darkness, reject not this blessed Gospel. Little can sin contribute to your happiness, even while you are most capable of tasting its pleasures: but what it can do for you in a dying hour, or in the day of judgment, it is needless for me to say. Let it not then keep you from coming to the light. Surely it is better that “your deeds should be reproved,” while you have opportunity to amend them, than that you should continue in them till you experience their bitter consequences. You would not travel in the dark when you could enjoy the light of day, or refuse the assistance of a guide that would lead you into the path which you professed to seek. Only then act for your souls as you would do in your temporal concerns, and all shall yet be well. Believe in Christ, and you shall yet be saved by him; as well from the commission of sin, as from the condemnation due to it.
Ye who profess to love the light, be careful to “walk as children of the light.” Bring every thing to the touchstone of God’s word. Try your spirit and temper, as well as your words and actions by this test. See whether you take the precepts of Christ as your rule, and his example as your pattern. For the sake of the world too, as well as for your own comfort, you should come continually to the light. If you would conciliate their regard for the Gospel, or remove their prejudice from yourselves, you should “make your works manifest that they are wrought in God.” You should let your light shine before men, that they, seeing your good works, may glorify your Father that is in heaven.]
CONVERSION OF SOULS A GROUND OF JOY
John 3:29-30. 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.
OF all the passions in the human breast, there is none more hateful than envy. When suffered to reign without controul, there is not any thing which it will not perpetrate. The rage of Cain, the conspiracy of Joseph’s brethren, the implacable enmity of the Jewish priests against the Lord Jesus Christ, clearly shew to what cruelties it will impel those who are under its dominion. Doubtless in those who have the smallest degree of piety, this malignant principle is weakened, and in a measure subdued: but it is not eradicated: it is one of those corruptions, which, by varying their appearances, retain possession of us under the semblance of good: nor, till we have made very considerable advances in the divine life, are we able fully and effectually to guard against its deceitful workings. We are assured that Joshua was truly pious; yet from an envious zeal for his Master’s honour he was desirous of silencing those who by divine inspiration prophesied in the camp [Note: Numbers 11:27-29.]. The Disciples of our Lord were actuated by no better principle, when they forbad a person to cast out devils in his name, because he did not follow with them [Note: Mark 9:38.]. The complaint which John’s disciples also made to him respecting the multitudes who submitted to the baptism of Jesus, originated in the same feeling. Some Jews had taken occasion, from Jesus rebaptizing the disciples of John, to represent John and Jesus as “opposing each other; and, from the difficulties of determining which of the two was right, they maintained, that it was better to adhere to the lustrations appointed by Moses, than to comply with the rites which these rival innovators were introducing. The disciples of John, fearing that their Master’s credit would suffer, and his influence be subverted, come to him to complain of Jesus for usurping an authority that did not belong to him, and for undermining the authority of John, from whom, in fact, he had, as they thought, derived his influence. In answer to this complaint, John reminds them, that the very testimony which he had borne to Jesus, was sufficient to shew them their error: for he had from the beginning represented his own office as a short and temporary one, which was to cease, as soon as the attention of men should be turned to Him, whose forerunner he was: and consequently, that the accomplishment of this great object should be to them a source, not of pain and grief, but of gratitude and thanksgiving. This idea he illustrates by the similitude of a bridegroom delighting in his bride, and thereby exciting in his friends, not an envious repining, but a sympathetic joy. As for the diminution of his own influence, this, he tells them, was agreeable to the very design of his coming; and, like a star which had served its purpose in the night, he was contented to be eclipsed, now that the Sun of Righteousness had risen to illumine the world.
From this general view of our text, we observe,
That the conversion of souls to Christ is a ground of joy—
The success of a bridegroom who has obtained possession of his bride, is usually deemed a ground of joyful congratulation. Now the conversion of a soul to Christ is fitly represented under this similitude. The Scripture often speaks of him as the Husband of his people [Note: Isaiah 54:5.Hosea 2:19-20; Hosea 2:19-20.], and of the Church as his bride [Note: Ephesians 5:23; Ephesians 5:25-27; Ephesians 5:31-32.]. To mark this correspondence, is needless: indeed, it is better to take it in a general view, than to attempt to trace it in particulars [Note: The greatest delicacy should studiously be observed on all such subjects as these.]. Suffice it to say, that the metaphor is just; that all who are truly converted give up themselves to Christ, and are thereby made partakers of all that he possesses.
Contemplate now what a ground of joy this is,
To the believer—
[Consider from what a state he is taken: how mean by nature! how vile by practice [Note: Ezekiel through the whole 16th chapter strongly describes this: but the foregoing caution must not be forgotten in following his train of ideas.]! — — — Consider to what a state he is raised: to what exalted honour! to what immense wealth! to what unspeakable felicity! — — — Has not such an one good reason to rejoice?]
To the heavenly Bridegroom—
[We know that, strictly speaking, he is not capable of having his happiness increased by any thing that we can do: he is altogether independent, and self-sufficient. Nevertheless, the Scriptures speak of him as still affected with joy and sorrow, just as he was in the days of his flesh. In conformity then with them, let us think, what must be his feelings, when he sees the blessed ends of his incarnation and death accomplished! — — — To convert and save sinners was the end of all that he did and suffered for us; and when he beholds them converted to himself, “he sees of the travail of his soul, and is satisfied [Note: Isaiah 53:11.].” To illustrate this idea, he gives us a variety of parables [Note: Luke 15:5-6; Luke 15:9-10; Luke 15:23-24.]; yea, he condescends to use by the prophet the very similitude in the text, in order to express the satisfaction of his soul in such events [Note: Isaiah 62:5.] — — —]
To the Bridegroom’s friend—
[As the friends both of the bride and bridegroom are often accessary to their union, and rejoice when they see the wishes of all the parties accomplished, so the friends of Christ, his ministers especially, exert themselves to bring sinners unto him. It is for this they labour, for this they pray; yea, for this they live, and for this they are content to die. Their one object is, that sinners may be born to God, and be united to Christ in the bonds of an everlasting covenant. In the pursuit of this, their labours, their anxieties, their sufferings are great — — — Can they then do otherwise than rejoice, when they see that they have not “laboured in vain or run in vain?” If they “travail, as it were, in birth, whilst they stand in doubt,” must they not rejoice, when their doubts are all dispelled? See how Paul rejoiced in the conversion of men [Note: 1 Thessalonians 3:7-10.]: and such are the feelings of every minister, in proportion as he is animated with Christian zeal and love — — —]
Whilst the Baptist thus disinterestedly declares that the conversion of sinners to Christ was to him a source of joy, he predicts,
That it shall advance in despite of every obstacle—
Those who are the instruments of diffusing the knowledge of Christ must wax and wane: however distinguished they may be for a time, they must soon “decrease.” But Christ, and his interests, must “increase.”
He must increase,
In the estimation of his chosen people—
[The envy of some, and the malignity of others, will be exerted to damp the ardour of our affections, and to shake our fidelity towards him: and, where a profession of regard for him has been lightly taken up, the enemies of Christ will succeed in drawing us from our allegiance to him. But, if we “have received the grace of God in truth,” we shall never yield to their solicitations: and, “if any go out from us, it is because they were not of us: for, if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us [Note: 1 Peter 2:19.].” The true Spouse of Christ may be tried and tempted; but she will never renounce her connexion with him, or be unfaithful to her engagements. The more she is assaulted from without or from within, the more she will flee to him for succour: and her experience of his kindness will endear him to her ever more and more; so that her love to him will be more ardent, her affiance in him more uniform, and her adherence to him more determined. Never will he be more dear to her, than when she has suffered the loss of all things for him. The language of her heart will be, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire in comparison of thee:” and “all other things will be counted but dross and dung in comparison of the knowledge of him.” In short, she will “grow in grace, as she grows in the knowledge” of her Divine Husband — — —]
In the estimation of the world at large—
[The Baptist’s words were soon verified: for, in the space of a few years, the knowledge and love of Christ were diffused throughout all the Roman empire. But his influence is yet only in its commencement. There is a time coming when it will extend to the remotest corners of the earth: “All kings shall fall down before him; all nations shall do him service.” “All shall know him, from the least unto the greatest;” and “all the kingdoms of the world become the kingdoms of our Lord” — — — “Then shall his Wife have made herself ready, and the marriage of the Lamb shall come: and blessed indeed will they be who shall then be called to the marriage supper of the Lamb [Note: Revelation 19:7-9; Revelation 21:9-11.].” This is “the increase” which we assuredly look for; and of it there shall be no end [Note: Isaiah 9:7. Daniel 2:44; Daniel 7:27.].”]
Those who profess to desire an union with Christ—
[Happy they who feel a desire after him! — — — But there must be in every one of us a meetness for him, before he will acknowledge us as his. Let not this however be misunderstood. There cannot be in us any thing that can deserve his love, nor any tiling that shall induce him to set his love upon us: we have not a good thought or desire which has not been first of all given us by him. But still, if we would be his in deed and in truth, we must have our desires supremely fixed on him, and every adulterous affection mortified. It is not a divided heart that he will accept: we must give ourselves wholly to him; or he will never admit us into the relation of his Spouse. See what holy jealousy St. Paul manifested on this head; and with what tender concern he urged the consideration of this subject on his Corinthian converts [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:2-3.] — — — So, beloved, we would urge it upon you. Deceive not your own souls. In forming human connexions, we may impose upon one another: but we can never impose on him: and if we would be acknowledged by him as his bride, we must present ourselves to him as a chaste virgin, with a determination to be his, even his alone — — —]
Those who profess to be actually united to him—
[It is scarcely needful to say, that you must endeavour to “walk worthy of your high calling.” If you profess to stand in such a relation to the Lord Jesus Christ, “what manner of persons ought you to be in all manner of conversation and godliness!” See then that you live in a state of constant communion with him [Note: 1 John 1:3.], and of entire dependence on him [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:30. John 1:16.] — — — Be zealous for his honour, and studious to bring forth the fruits of righteousness to his praise and glory [Note: Romans 7:4.] — — —
Endeavour also to commend him unto others. There is no room for jealousy here. The light of his countenance, like the light of the sun, will not be the less enjoyed by you because it is imparted to others: on the contrary, the more successful you are in bringing others into a participation of his benefits, the more will your own souls overflow with joy. And the very weakest amongst us, that is really the Bridegroom’s friend, shall find that he does not testify of Christ in vain: however incapable he may feel himself to recommend the Saviour to others, he shall see some fruit of his labour, and have reason to say, with John, “This my joy is fulfilled.”]
THE NECESSITY OF FAITH IN CHRIST
John 3:36. 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.
A FAITHFUL minister will find many occasions of rectifying the views and dispositions of his hearers; nor will he fail to improve the opportunities that occur of leading them to a more intimate acquaintance with their Lord. Some of the followers of John the Baptist having heard of the popularity of Jesus, were envious of his success, and jealous for the honour of their own teacher. But this holy man answered their complaints with much wisdom and humility; and having, in the strongest terms, given his testimony to the Divine mission of Jesus, he confirmed his word with the solemn declaration which we have just read. This record contains the sum and substance of the Gospel. It sets before us,
The one condition of our salvation—
We do not mean to say that there is any thing to be done, whereby we are to earn or merit heaven (in this respect our salvation has no conditions except those which were performed by Christ) but that,
We must believe in Christ in order to obtain salvation—
[The duty here enjoined is not so easy as men generally suppose. If it merely imported a consent to the truth of Christianity, it might then be performed without any difficulty or self-denial. But to “believe on the Son of God” is, to believe, that he is the only, and the all-sufficient, Saviour of our ruined race. If we do not feel our need of him; if we be not convinced that we can never obtain salvation by any works of our own; if we do not make earnest application to him at a throne of grace; and if we do not trust altogether in his blood and righteousness, we cannot believe aright. This, and nothing less than this, is the condition of our acceptance with God.]
Nor is there any other condition so suitable as this—
[We may be ready to think that the performance of good works were a much fitter condition than faith. But if salvation were by works, no flesh living could be saved; because no man ever has kept, or ever can keep, the whole law of God. Nor should we be at all more safe, if sincere obedience were the term of our acceptance; because as no man has perfectly fulfilled the law, so no man has done all that he might have done; in many instances we might have mortified our sinful dispositions more, and approved ourselves more diligent in the discharge of our duty. Besides, if we were saved by any works of our own, we should have whereof to glory, and might ascribe, even in heaven itself, the honour to ourselves. Whereas the appointment of salvation by faith secures happiness to the most unworthy, if really penitent; and necessitates all to give the glory of their salvation to God alone.]
The Baptist having thus made known the condition of our acceptance with God, proceeds to declare,
The state of those who comply with it—
About this, which might have been thought a dubious point, no doubt whatever is expressed. The believer has,
A title to eternal life—
[There is not any title whatever to an earthly inheritance so secure as that which the believer has to heaven. He has the promise of Jehovah. He has a covenant sealed with Emmanuel’s blood, and confirmed with the oath of God himself—and, provided he can appeal to God respecting his unfeigned reliance on the Lord Jesus Christ, he may put in his claim even at the bar of judgment, and demand, if we may so speak, all the glory of heaven as his unalienable inheritance. God hath said, “He that believeth shall be saved;” and if we only prove our performance of the condition, we need never doubt the fulfilment of God’s promise.]
The beginning and earnest of it in his soul—
[The life which a believer has in his soul is of the same kind with that which he shall possess for ever. He has the same reconciliation with God, the same delight in him, and the same sense of his favour. The Spirit of God that is within him is often called “an earnest” of his inheritance; because that Spirit, in his enlightening, sanctifying, and comforting influences, is a foretaste of heaven, and a pledge, that the soul possessed of it shall in due time enjoy all the glory and felicity of the heavenly world. He has only to wait the appointed hour, and his abode shall be in the presence of his God, where nothing that can trouble or defile him shall ever enter. Say, brethren, could an angel from heaven announce to you more joyful tidings than these?]
But it is not thus with all. Widely different is,
The state of those who do not comply with it—
Here we may observe the same strength of assertion as in the former case. The text positively affirms, that
They shall not enter into heaven—
[Unbelievers often seem as confident of obtaining eternal happiness as if all the promises of God had been made to them in particular. But they will be awfully disappointed as soon as ever they enter into the invisible world. “They will knock at the gate of heaven, crying, Lord, Lord, open to us: but he will answer them, Depart from me, I never knew you.” A flaming sword will prohibit their entrance into Paradise, and an impassable gulf be fixed between them and the celestial spirits. This is the declaration of God, nor can it ever be reversed.]
They shall be made eternal monuments of God’s wrath—
[They will not be persuaded that God is angry with them; and because they feel not his judgments now, they think they never shall. But God even now is filled with wrath against them; and they are preserved only as condemned criminals in a dungeon, till the hour appointed for their execution shall arrive. God’s eye is ever upon them, not for good, but for evil. He views them as guilty of the most flagrant disobedience [Note: Ὁ δε ἀπειθῶν is contrasted in the text with ὁ πιστεύων.]. He regards them as contemners both of his majesty, and of his mercy. He is incensed against them for “trampling under foot his dear Son, and doing despite to his Spirit.” And soon the wrath, which even now “abideth on them,” “shall come upon them to the uttermost.”]
[Let all inquire seriously whether they do indeed believe — — — Let those, who have not hitherto come to Christ as lost and perishing sinners, guard against those workings of self-righteousness which would keep them from him — — — And let “those who have believed be careful to maintain good works” — — —]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on John 3". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany