There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus
NICODEMUS THE INQUIRER. He was a Pharisee, and therefore all manner of religious obstacles, formalism, etc., stood in his way. He was a ruler, and therefore all manner of social impediments beset him. But his conscience had been awakened. He came in the dark so as not to be noticed. He admits Christ’s Divine teacher-ship. Men now hold miracles in light esteem, but this narrative shows us that they should make a sober man think. Our Lord’s reply shows that Nicodemus’ admission was not enough. It is a great thing to reverence Christ, but this will not save without a spiritual change. About this Nicodemus was as ignorant as a babel and as Jesus opened it and related matters he might well marvel. He had inquired, and now heard much more than he anticipated. He is a sample of most inquirers. Through chinks and crannies the heavenly light steals silently and gradually. As the light goes in, prejudices are overcome and notions surrendered, until it becomes day as it did with Nicodemus.
II. NICODEMUS THE CONFESSOR (chap. 7.). The impression made on the public mind by Christ’s teaching and miracles was great (John 7:27). The rulers, filled with wrath, sent officers to arrest Him. These officers were so struck with what they heard that they returned without their prisoner. The Pharisees rebuked them, and heaped insults on all who acknowledged Him. Then Nicodemus arose in His defence, standing on Exodus 23:1-33, and Deuteronomy 1:16. It requires some courage to defend one whom rulers have condemned. Nicodemus did this, and bore the reproach of discipleship. He who was once timid now dares to stand up for Christ alone. The explanation is that in the meantime he had been born again,
III. NICODEMUS FAITHFUL IN HIS MASTER’S HUMILIATION (chap. 19.). Jesus has been tried, condemned, and executed. All His disciples had fled, but Nicodemus stands firm, and with Joseph of Arimathea secures for our Lord an honourable burial Lessons
1. If God begins a work in the soul, He will carry on that work to completion.
2. Ministers must not be discouraged at unpromising beginnings.
3. A man may be at first, but he cannot continue, a secret disciple. (C. D.Marston, M. A.)
Every effect is to be traced up to some adequate cause, and the effect is in exact proportion to the cause. This is true
1. In nature.
2. In providence.
3. In grace. Witness the case of Nicodemus here and in chaps, 7. and 19.
I. GRACE IN ITS FIRST COMMENCEMENT MAY BE VERY FEEBLE. Nicodemus was a timid man, and ignorant, and somewhat hard; yet he welcomed and employed the light, although not to the fullest extent. In his and in all other cases the beginnings of grace are feeble. Young believers are likened in Isaiah 40:11 to lambs; in Isaiah 42:3 to a bruised reed and smoking flax; in Matthew 13:31 to a mustard seed; in Mark 4:1-41. as a blade. Just as Christ in His natural body grew up from nothing as it were, so is Christ born in the heart.
II. ALTHOUGH GRACE IS THUS FEEBLE IN ITS COMMENCEMENT IT IS A REALITY. Though Nicodemus came as a coward, yet he came; though he was ignorant, yet he asked; though he was a ruler, yet he renounced his knowledge and inquired with all the simplicity of a child. If we had rescued some poor creature from the waves, not a breath stirring, apparently dead, we should use every means and go on in hope. At last we hear a feeble sigh, and the conclusion we draw is that he lives. His life is as real as if he walked. Look at the sinner dead in trespasses and sins. Nothing moves him; not the terrors of the law, nor the invitations of the gospel. But God sends forth His Spirit, the heart is touched, the conscience enlightened, and the effect is that He feels his sin and cries, “God be merciful,” etc. We now find him pleading the atonement and finding mercy. He receives a new principle. This is a reality, and is so described in the terms new creation, new birth, resurrection. That it is real is proved by three things.
1. It abideth (Galatians 5:17).
2. It over cometh (1 John 3:9).
3. It still tendeth towards God (John 4:14).
It came from God, it ascends to God. It longs to love Christ and holiness more, and is not satisfied till it reaches the bosom of its Father (Psalms 17:15).
III. WHEN GRACE IS REAL, HOWEVER WEAK, CHRIST DOES NOT DESPISE IT. He did not upbraid Nicodemus with coming by night, nor does He any one now.
1. His covenant engagements forbid it.
2. His love forbids it.
3. Beware, then, how you despise feeble grace
Conclusion-- Jam_4:6. Proverbs 13:4. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
I. THE DESCRIPTION HERE GIVEN OF THE MAN.
1. His religious profession, “a man of the Pharisees.”
2. His official position, “a ruler of the Jews.”
II. THE CIRCUMSTANCE RECORDED CONCERNING HIM.
1. Why he came.
(a) It was not to ensnare or oppose Jesus, as was the case with his co-religionists generally.
(b) Not out of curiosity like Zacchaeus.
2. When he came, “by night.”
III. THE ACKNOWLEDGMENT MADE BY HIM.
1. To what it refers--to the character of Jesus as a teacher come from God.
2. The ground on which it rests. Nothing can be more reasonable than the inference. It will be seen
The character of Nicodemus
I. AN INQUIRER. Reports had reached the teachers and rulers concerning Christ which startled them. A man not educated in their schools, nor sent forth with their authority, an obscure man of peasant origin, was preaching doctrines not included in their systems, and doing works to which they were not equal. Nicodemus, one of them, came to inquire of Christ personally as to these things.
II. A CAUTIOUS MAN. There are some who are carried about with every wind of doctrine. Nothing astonishes us more than the ease with which men take up a new religion except the ease with which they lay it down. Not so with Nicodemus. He knew that Judaism was of God, and that Judaism prophesied a Messiah with which Christ did not seem to correspond. Yet Christ’s miracles appeared to authenticate His mission. But before accepting Him he would inquire further.
III. AN INTELLIGENT MAN. Education does not always enlarge the mind. Religious education sometimes tends to bigotry. But this man was an independent thinker, and claimed the right of private judgment. His large mental capacity had been cultured to appreciate evidence and to weigh words. Consequently Christ reveals to him more advanced truths.
IV. AN EARNEST MAN. He had been occupied with his official duties during the day, and now he treads the lone dark streets uncertain whether Christ would receive him.
V. BEING FAITHFUL TO THE LIGHT HE HAD, THE LIGHT WAS TO DEEPEN AND BRIGHTEN. (H. J. Bevis.)
We see in him
I. THE COURAGE OF THE EARNEST INVESTIGATOR INTO THE CLAIMS OF CHRIST. He was earnest enough to come by night so that he might have a long, calm, and uninterrupted interview. Had he been afraid, Christ would probably have rebuked him. He boldly acknowledges Christ’s Divine mission, and pursues his inquiries into the meaning of Christ’s words. Christ rewards this courage by unreserved communications of spiritual truth. This courage must be imitated by every truth seeker.
II. THE COURAGE OF WISE-WORDED SPEECH FOR CHRIST. The next time we see him (John 7:50) his courage has grown, and in the midst of Christ’s implacable enemies he speaks a wise word for Him. For such a man with his constitutional reserve to act as he did, and to incur what he did, required no ordinary courage. This courage is the power of Christian testimony now: in the presence of enemies, in the midst of temptations, at home.
III. THE COURAGE OF LIBERAL-HANDED SACRIFICE FOR CHRIST. When our Lord’s hour was darkest, Nicodemus’ courage is at the brightest. He takes His stand by the Crucified, whose disciples were scattered, whose cause was discredited, and whose name was a mockery. He ran some risk, knew little of Him compared with what we know, took His body reverently from the cross, embalmed and buried Him. Christ is not in the grave now. To be on His side still requires courage and sacrifice. Count the cost; maintain the struggle; win the crown. (G. T. Coster.)
Nicodemus and Christ
I. THIS MAN’S APPROACH TO CHRIST.
1. Who was he?
2. Why did he come? The Messiah’s coming was generally expected. Christ had done some apparently Messianic deeds, and had been acknowledged. The Sanhedrim could not avoid dealing with Him. Nicodemus was therefore probably deputed to wait upon Him. This was not a worthy method of procedure. Instead of inviting Christ openly to hear what He had to say, or going as frank and faithful men to Him, they concluded to keep their impressions secret while one of their chiefs under cover of night stole away to catechise the Saviour.
3. How did he act?
II. CHRIST’S TREATMENT OF THIS DISTINGUISHED VISITOR
1. He met him with calmness and civility. He came to save great men as well as small. (John 6:37.)
2. He spoke at once to the point, and undeceived him in regard to the basis on which he and his fraternity were building their hopes. Jesus, who knew what is in man, knew the unspoken thought of Nicodemus. He knows what is in our hearts, and is able to suit His favours to our wants before we express them. Nicodemus wanted some decisive manifestation that Christ was the King of Israel. Christ responds that no one would ever be able to discern or enter the kingdom without a new birth. Thus, at a single stroke, Christ laid prostrate this renowned councillor’s greatness, and dashed out for ever the loudest hopes of his race.
3. The Saviour expounded the unalterable condition of admission. That condition was
4. In order to this renewal, Christ explained the true nature of the Messianic work. Hot to fight the Romans, confront Caesar with Caesar’s weapons, subdue the nations to Jewish vassalage--but to die for sinners that they might live.
5. As underlying all, Jesus taught the right doctrine concerning God. Nicodemus believed in God, but had a very limited and inadequate conception of the higher mysteries of the Godhead. He needed to be taught that God was Three-One, and that in this same young Galilean the expressed Godhead dwelt, being come from heaven for man’s redemption. (J. A.Seiss, D. D.)
Who was Nicodemus?
Of this particular Nicodemus, we know with certainty nothing more than is told us in this Gospel (John 7:50; Joh_19:39). The Talmud mentions a Nakedimon, so called from a miracle performed by him, who was the son of Gorion, and whose real name was Bonai. It also gives the name Bonai as one of the disciples of Jesus. He was one of the three richest Jews when Titus besieged Jerusalem, but his family were reduced to the most abject poverty. So far the Talmud. The inference is that this change of fortune is connected with his becoming a Christian and with the persecution which followed, and he is himself identified with the Nicodemus of the gospel. We can only say this may be so. (H. W.Watkins, D. D.)
Two historic night scenes
One of the most memorable and important interviews which ever took place between two individuals in this world was held on a raft in the middle of the river Niemen, at the little town of Tilsit, in Prussia. At one o’clock precisely, on the 25th of June, 1807, boats put off from opposite sides of the stream and rowed rapidly toward the raft. Out of each boat stepped a single individual, and the two met in a small wooden apartment in the middle of the raft, while cannon thundered from either shore, and the shouts of great armies drawn up upon both banks drowned the roar of artillery. The two persons were the Emperors Napoleon and Alexander, and the history of the time tells us that they met “to arrange the destinies of mankind.” And the hastily-constructed raft, on which the interview took place, will be remembered as long as the story of great conquests and mighty revolutions can interest the mind of man. The conference lasted but two hours; it was entirely private between the two emperors, and yet it was fraught with momentous consequences to millions. It was one of the great crises in human history when the currents of power that govern the nations take new directions, and break over the bounds and barriers of ages. Go back eighteen hundred years beyond the treaty of Tilsit, and we can find a private conference between two indivisuals of far more momentous and lasting importance than that between Napoleon and Alexander. This more ancient interview was not watched with eager expectancy by great armies; it was not hailed by the thunder of cannon and the shout of applauding thousands; it was not arranged beforehand by keen and watchful agents guarding the interest and safety of the two who were to meet. It was in a private house, at a late hour of the night, and it was brought about by the mingled curiosity and anxiety of an old man to know something more of a young teacher who had recently appeared in his native city. And yet from that humble night-conference of Jesus with Nicodemus there have gone forth beams of light and words of power to the ends of the earth. The plans formed by Napoleon and Alexander at Tilsit were reversed and defeated long ago, and it is impossible to trace their influence in the condition of European nations today. The words spoken by Jesus to His wondering and solitary listener that night have already changed and glorified the destiny of immortal millions; they have more influence in the world now than in any previous age; and they are destined to go on increasing in power, until they shall be received as the message of life and love by every nation under heaven. (D. March, D. D.)
The influence of night on the student
There is a reason why students prefer the night to the day for their labours. Through the day their thoughts are diverted into a thousand streams; but at night they settle into pools, which, deep and undisturbed, reflect the stars, But night labour, in time, will destroy the student; for it is marrow from his own bones with which he fills his lamp. (H. W. Beecher.)
Christ the greatest Teacher
I. The extent of His knowledge,
II. The perfection of His character.
III. The excellence of His methods.
IV. The kindness of His disposition.
V. The greatness of His rewards. (R. Brewin.)
The relation of miracles to teaching
When God had some new tidings to tell to the world, He gave to the men whom He sent with the message the power of working miracles. The miracles were a sort of bell, which they rang in the ears of their generation, that people might listen to what they had to say, and believe that it came from Heaven. (Dean Goulburn.)
An interview with a night visitor
The hours were too few for the work each day brought to Jesus. His labours were often prolonged into the night. An exciting day was over, and one of Jerusalem’s noblest sons sought the Saviour. The visit was not prearranged, but spontaneous. Nicodemus could not sleep till he had seen Christ. Others were within the same influences, yet slept. Here was the first-fruit of Christ’s direct ministry. The visit did not surprise the Saviour. Let the incident suggest
I. USING THE DARKNESS FOR SEEKING THE SAVIOUR. Night is friendly to retirement and secrecy. The guilty abuse it; but the holiest have ever found its tranquilizing calm, helpful. Attention is needed to it. The struggle which compelled Nicodemus to journey to Jesus. Naturally he must have felt reluctant to quit his home. Why not wait till morning? But thoughts had been arrested, anxiety stirred by the works of Jesus. Conviction had grown. He could not therefore be inactive. The visit involved risk. Caution would counsel hesitation, but eagerness made him resolute, and, determined to lose no opportunity, he came to Jesus by night.
2. The motive which led to the use of the night. Fear, prudence, unwillingness to court attention, are motives with many. Vanity, sense of shame, reluctance to compromise one’s dignity, are motives with others. Were these Nicodemus’ motives, or the fact of convenience, the night ensuring quiet and leisure? Or was it restless eagerness? The narrative marks that no earlier hour was available (John 2:24). Yet the thricereiterated “ by night” seems to denote excessive prudence.
3. The spirit His visit betokened. He craved satisfaction. If He is the promised One, I must know Him.
4. The knock at the door of Jesus’ home.
II. YIELDING UP SLEEP FOR A SOUL’S ADVANTAGE.
1. No hour finds Jesus unwilling to attend to our need.
2. Christ’s eagerness to meet a seeker. At once Nicodemus was led into themes of which his heart was full.
III. SPENDING THE NIGHT TALKING OF WONDROUS THEMES. Jesus uses time well. The themes may be thus classified
1. Concerning the Divine Trinity. The Spirit (John 3:5-6), “the only begotten Son” (John 3:13-18). God the Father, who sent the Spirit and gave the Son.
2. Concerning the action of the threefold Godhead in man’s salvation. The Spirit regenerates; the Son atones; the Father’s love provides the sacrifice and gathers in the world.
3. Concerning man’s responsibility in reference to salvation. He has no part in saving himself. Jesus accomplishes that (John 3:17). He must be enlightened (John 3:3) and renewed (John 3:7). On him is cast the solemn duty of personal belief in Christ.
4. Concerning the great issues set before the soul. Not to believe incurs condemnation. But the world through Christ may be saved (John 3:17). There remains for each the vast alternatives of everlasting life or the abiding wrath of God (John 3:36).
IV. HEAVENLY LIGHT GAINED IN THE NIGHT INTERVIEW WITH JESUS.
1. Nicodemus became a humble listener at the feet of Jesus. It was his intention to interrogate the Teacher, but he soon became silenced.
2. He retired with new and sacred life within him. (W. H. Jellie.)
The anxious inquirer--coming, disputing, listening
I. NICODEMUS COMING TO CHRIST. Amongst those mentioned in the closing verses of the last chapter was the Rabbi Nicodemus. To him the young man Jesus was an object of profound interest. He retired from the crowd to the Sanhedrim. There his fellow princes were in indignation at the assumption of the youthful Nazarene, and amazed at the audacity of His holiness. He leaves the Sanhedrim, and retires to his own home. He becomes anxious about this Teacher sent from God. He takes down the ancient laws and prophecies. He sees the resemblance between that young Rabbi and some of those shadowy words which lighten over the ancient parchments. A new interest gathers over the pages. While he reads the sun has set, the crowds have dispersed, Jesus has gone home. Nicodemus resolves to go to Him. The night season is all the more favourable. Nicodemus approaches the retreat of Jesus, timidly and holding back. But the door is open, and there is Jesus waiting for him.
1. Nicodemus was an anxious but haughty inquirer. The proud, moral disposition of the Jew starts into light at the first word--We know. The things of eternity will not allow him to sleep; but the opening remark of this emissary of the Sanhedrim implied that he and they had little to learn.
2. Still he made a concession. He calls Jesus Rabbi. He could call his brethren in the great council chamber no more.
3. He maintains a reserve. Something clutched at the rope and plucked you back just as you were about to tell Christ all. Christ came to him at once, and replied not to what he said, but to what he thought. You cannot see till you are born.
II. NICODEMUS DISPUTING WITH CHRIST. He came expecting to discuss with Christ the things of the Jewish Church; Christ pressed home all his thoughts to internal questions. Many came to Christ to dispute rather than to listen. The overcoming of the disputatious element in us is one of the most important preliminaries to the reception of the truth. In disputing we defend our own views rather than open our minds to the truth. Nicodemus disputing reveals to us
1. How the carnal mind is ignorant of the things of the Spirit of God.
2. Wherein lies our difficulty of belief. It is in the How and the Why we find the great obstacles to our faith.
3. How far we may be immersed in spiritual ignorance when we seem to be most advanced in knowledge.
4. How possible it is to belong to the outward and visible church, and yet to know nothing of the great and saving change of heart and life.
III. NICODEMUS LISTENING TO CHRIST. He gives up disputation, and Christ unfolds the plan and science of salvation.
1. He asserts the inability of the man and the inutility of human knowledge.
2. The plan of Divine ability beginning with the work of the Holy Spirit and ending with that of the Divine Father.
3. The exhibition of the mediatorial sign.
4. The unfolding of the essential law of the Divine kingdom--do the truth and you will know the truth. (Paxton Hood.)
The Teacher and the taught
I. THE DISCIPLE.
1. His relation to the ruling powers and his position as a man of culture.
2. His want of moral courage.
3. His reverent acknowledgment of Christ’s authority, in which he manifests elementary faith.
4. His willingness to be taught.
II. THE TEACHER.
1. His willingness to teach. Christ ever meets the eager and reverent inquirer in this spirit.
2. His willingness to accept imperfect faith.
3. The truths be taught.
4. The great purpose of His mission with the method of its accomplishment. (Family Churchman.)
The two Rabbis
I. THE TEACHER COME FROM GOD.
1. Accessible to men (John 3:1-2; Matthew 8:34; Mat_9:28; Mat_11:28; Mat_15:1; Mark 3:8; John 4:40).
2. Commissioned of God (John 3:2; Deuteronomy 18:18; John 8:28; Joh_12:49; Joh_14:10; Joh_17:8; Hebrews 1:1-2).
3. Confirmed by miracles (John 3:2; Luke 23:47; John 2:11; Joh_9:33; Joh_10:38; Joh_14:11; Acts 2:22).
II. A TEACHER ABLE TO TEACH.
1. Of the new birth (John 3:3; Joh_1:13; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ga James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23; 1 John 3:9).
2. Of the Spirit’s power (John 3:6; Joh_14:26; Joh_16:18; Romans 8:14; 1 Corinthians 2:10; 1Co_1:22; Titus 3:5).
3. Of the Heavenly things (John 3:12; Joh_6:33; Joh_6:51; Joh_14:3; Joh_16:28; 1 Corinthians 15:47; 1 Thessalonians 4:16).
III. A TEACHER ABLE TO SAVE.
1. Lifted up to save (John 3:14; Numbers 21:9; John 8:28; Joh_12:32; 1 Corinthians 2:2; Galatians 6:14; 1 John 1:7)
2. Given of God to save (John 3:17; Matthew 1:21; John 4:42; Joh_5:34;Acts 4:12; Romans 5:9; 1 John 4:9).
3. Believed on to save (John 3:18; Mark 16:16; John 3:36, vl, 47; Acts 16:31; Romans 3:26; 1 John 5:1). (Sunday School Times.)
Christ as a teacher
I. THE EVIDENCES WHICH CHRIST GAVE OF BEING A TEACHER COME FROM GOD.
1. His qualifications to be this teacher.
2. The peculiarity of His instructions
II. IN WHAT RESPECTS THIS GREAT TEACHER SHOULD BE IMITATED BY OTHER TEACHERS.
1. In His imitable qualifications
2. In His Spirit
3. In His conduit.
4. In His aim--to save souls.
1. Rejoice that you have such a teacher. Learn of Him if you would be successful teachers.
2. There is no cause for discouragement if you see not the success of your teaching. Christ’s “own received Him not.”
3. Let Scripture motives urge you to undertake and pursue this great work. Gratitude, the brevity of time, the present benefit, the future reward.
4. What a blessed day when teachers and taught will meet in heaven. (James Sherman.)
Christ as a teacher
Jesus was emphatically a teacher. Not one who was confined to a professor’s chair, but one who taught everywhere. As a teacher He was eminently successful, and exceedingly popular. What was the secret of His success and popularity?
I. HIS DOCTRINES were of such a character as to command the most profound respect, and make the deepest impressions.
1. There was in them a peculiar fitness to the people. His teachings awakened the conscience, enlightened the understanding, and stirred the heart.
2. They were free from sectarian bigotry and prejudice. His principles were broad and generous, having universal application to the physical, social, and spiritual wants of men.
II. HIS STYLE. There was nothing stiff or stilted about it, no extravagance of speech, no affectation of manner. His very presence was a charm. Gentleness and simplicity marked all He said and did.
III. HIS ILLUSTRATIVENESS. One of the elements in His great strength lay in the aptness of His figures and comparisons from common life. Wherever He turned His eye He found central truth, and brought out of it something that the people could apply home. He ignored bewildering terminology, and showed that religion had something to say in the home as well as in the temple.
IV. HIS IMPARTIALITY. Teachers often make distinctions among their pupils. But Christ looked at man as man, and turned no one way either on account of rank or of poverty.
V. HIS AUTHORITY. It was the consciousness of His Divine authority which made Him so independent as a teacher. He did not pander to the corrupt tastes of the people nor accommodate Himself to their errors and prejudices.
VI. HIS NATURALNESS. There was nothing strained, artificial, or formal about His methods. It was in the most incidental and easy way that He taught some of His grandest lessons and did His greatest works. The smallest occasion was improved. There never was a teacher so little dependent on times and places. Why this spontaneity in all the teachings of Jesus? Because religion is natural, and religion is natural because it is real.
VII. HIS ABILITY TO INSPIRE MEN, to kindle in their hearts a holy enthusiasm. Xenophon tells us that men were more inspired by the example and spirit of Socrates than by his words. So with Jesus. There was something in His manner, address, and personal presence that at once won the hearts of His hearers. When He wanted men to become His disciples He had” but to say to them “Follow Me,” and they at once “forsook all and followed Him.” And He exerts that influence to-day. (J. L. Harris.)
Our Lord a model for Sunday-school teachers
I. THE CHARACTER OF JESUS CHRIST AND HIS QUALIFICATIONS FOR A TEACHER. His qualifications are more apparent in their subjects than in their modes. What was Christ? is a better question than How did He teach? Many put too much faith in systems, method, etc., and too little in men of God.
1. Christ had a very high estimate of His work. He made men’s minds, and was “the light that lighted,” etc. He had a full perception of the powers and value and destiny of the human spirit. You must have this same high estimate. No man will do heartily what he does not think worth doing. Nothing can be greater than to teach truth to an immortal mind.
2. Christ’s mind was fully possessed with the truth He taught. He always spoke as though the truth were His own. You never perceive any effort or sense of novelty. He bore truth about Him as a daily dress. He spoke of God as if He were in His bosom. He left an impression that He “spoke that which He knew,” etc. It was this that made the people astonished, and that made the officers say, “Never man spake like this man.” Be like Christ in this respect. There is but one way of attaining it, and that is by being real. It is not attainable by art. You must be a Christian, living and walking in the Spirit of Christ.
3. Christ was entirely self-consecrated to His work. He was not forced or persuaded into it. He came to it because He loved it and those He taught. Kindness, the key to the human heart, therefore, was the temper in which
He taught. Nothing is done without this. He who is set on keeping up His dignity may end in losing His charge. Children are eminently susceptible to kindness.
4. Christ lived His lessons. It was this that silenced His enemies and won His friends. If you would be effective you must teach by what you do as well as by what you say. Children have consciences, and no appeal will be so powerful as that of holiness of character. Besides, imitation is the law of their minds.
II. THE TEACHING OF JESUS CHRIST.
1. The free and familiar manner of it. There is no set system. His course was prompted by circumstances. He spoke to the time. Truth came out of Him on particular occasions, like virtue when He was touched. Don’t fill the minds of the children with formal propositions. Speak always “the present truth.” Be simple, but not coarse. Christ had not hard words or technicalities; He trusted to the inherent dignity of the truth. The sublimest thoughts can be put into words of one syllable, “God is light,” “God is love.”
2. If you would imitate Jesus Christ, don’t teach more than one thing at a time. He uttered a great doctrine and then dwelt upon it. The minds of adults may be injured by trying to put too much into them. He who seeks to do too much ends by doing nothing.
3. Christ adapted Himself to those whom He addressed. He had many things to say, but waited till they could hear them. This has been His method from the beginning. Revelation was progressive. So you must lead the children’s minds from one degree of knowledge to another. Begin with “first principles,” and “go on to perfection.”
4. Christ taught pictorially. Parables are pictures. The Bible is history, and what is history but a picture? What are baptism and the Lord’s Supper but pictures. Dry didactic statements have few charms for children, but they may be won by anecdotes.
1. Jesus Christ as a teacher had very little success, but He did not faint. The husbandman has faith in the operation of nature; so must you in the growth of the good seed.
2. Christ believed that His seed would grow again. Many a doctrine the apostles remembered after He had risen. Future events must be allowed to quicken your teaching, perhaps your death. But no truth is ever lost.
3. Even Christ prayed while He was labouring. Without prayer you might as well not teach at all. (A. J. Morris.)
Open and secret Christians
There are always in a congregation some who accept Christ but do not confess Him openly. The Church has its hypocrites, but so has the world: for there are men who seem to lead a worldly life whose inner life is turned toward Christ; but they make three mistakes in their position.
2. THEY OVERESTIMATE THE VALUE OF WORLDLY FRIENDSHIPS. How much will your friends among the men of the world sacrifice for you? They will desert you when your purse fails.
II. THEY OVERESTIMATE THE EFFECT OF CONFESSION ON FRIENDSHIP. It will not drive away a true friend. What hurts us most is ridicule. Learn to live above it. Christ suffered the meanest insult. His followers have often sealed their faith with their blood.
III. THEY UNDERESTIMATE THEIR OWN STRENGTH. They are afraid of falling after they have made a public confession, and of giving opportunity to scoffers to blaspheme. They put too low a value on the strength Christ gives for every crisis. At the moment of danger Nicodemus came forward. Is there a danger now that calls these silent Christians to come forth? There is, though this age is no worse than many others. Our literature is full of a lofty scorn, a condescending pity for Christianity. Many of our scientists are materialists. It is time to be brave and outspoken. Christ is polarizing the world; there are but two classes of men. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
An audience of one
Permenides upon reading a philosophical discourse before a public assembly at Athens, and observing that, except Plato, the whole company had left him, continued notwithstanding, saying that Plato alone was sufficient audience for him. (W. Baxendale.)
No man can do these miracles except God be with him
The miraculous in Christ’s history
At the very threshold of the discussion there meets us the assertion that miracles are impossible. Now I hold that we cannot believe in a personal God and doubt the possibility of miracles.
1. We have a great deal of learned talk about the inviolability of the laws of nature, which really makes a strait-waistcoat for God of His own laws. But the question is set at rest by facts which science attests. What is the beginning of life but a miracle? Scientific men know that this world was once a molten mass, and that there could not then, by any possibility, be on it any germ of vegetable or animal life. But life by and by appeared and multiplied; and in its appearance we have a distinct and special act of God creating life; and that is a miracle.
2. But there are those who admit all this and yet deny any other miracles. They say that they are not reasonable, that they are a reflection on the wisdom of God. But while God’s being makes miracles possible, God’s mercy and man’s needs make miracles reasonable. If there is a defect in the mechanism of the world, it is not due to God, but to us; the disorder in the universe is not His, but ours. And a special interposition by Him to right what we have put wrong is the reverse of a reflection on His wisdom. A revelation of mercy to a sinful world is a miraculous thing in itself; and if other miracles accompany it, it is just what might be anticipated.
3. But there are those who say that whether wrought or not, miracles cannot be proved. This is Hume’s position, which is modified by Huxley, who insists that the proof, if proof can be adduced, must be very strong. Mill further modifies it by admitting that “if a supernatural event really occurs, it is impossible to maintain that the proof cannot be accessible to the human faculties.” My contention is that miracles can be proved like other facts, and I proceed to prove that the account of Christ’s miracles by the evangelists is true.
I. THEIR NARRATIVE HAS THE AIR OF TRUTHFULNESS. When we are examining witnesses, we must assume that they are truthful until we have found them false; and there are various ways in which they may impress us. They may give their evidence in such an unsatisfactory manner as to arouse the suspicion that it is false; or it may be given with such artless simplicity as to convince us that it is true. On turning to the Gospels, we find the miracles of Christ recorded with as much calmness as if they had been only ordinary events. Their time and place, their nature, their witnesses, and sometimes their moral effects, are minutely recorded. The writers have all the appearance of men who are not making fiction but recording fact.
II. THE DISCIPLES HAD AMPLE MEANS OF KNOWING WHETHER THE ALLEGED MIRACLES WERE REALLY WROUGHT. Witnesses may be truthful and yet give a testimony we cannot accept, because of their having been deceived. But there are considerations which show that it could not have been thus with the disciples. The assertion that Christ tried to impose upon them charges Him with conduct so much at variance with His character as they present it, that we cannot entertain it for a moment, and the miracles were of such a kind that they could not be deceived in regard to them. They were numerous, varied, and striking.
III. THE DISCIPLES HAD NO CONCEIVABLE MOTIVE FOR CONSPIRING TO PALM ON THE WORLD A FALSE HISTORY OF JESUS. It could net exalt their Master to attribute to Him miracles He never wrought; it could not exalt themselves in their own estimation to sit down and carefully construct an elaborate fiction; and they could not expect to gain over the people to Christ by alleging that He had wrought many miracles among them both in Judea and Galilee when they knew that the people had not seen one of them. Just credit them with common sense, and then say if you can conceive of their trying to palm falsehoods on the world. If they had been knaves they would net have taken this course, for there was nothing to gain by it; and if they had been fools they would not have acted as they did.
IV. THEY HAD NOT ONLY NO MOTIVE TO GIVE A FALSE ACCOUNT, BUT THEY HAD THE STRONGEST REASONS FOR NOT DOING SO. There was no worldly honour or wealth to be got by their testimony; it was certain to entail the loss of all things. Is it conceivable, then, with the knowledge of all this that they would publish false accounts.
V. THEY COULD NOT HAVE GAINED ACCEPTANCE FOR THE GOSPELS IF THEY HAD NOT BEEN TRUE. It is Christ’s miracles which were appealed to when the apostles urged men to believe in Him. Consider what believing involved. It meant not only accepting His history in the Gospels as true, but taking Him to be the Saviour from sin, and leading, in obedience to His command and after His example, a holy life; and this in the face of the scorn and contempt of the world, with the prospect of temporal ruin, and the risk of a violent death. Now, how could men be persuaded to face the sacrifices all this involved by appeals to miracles which had never been wrought? Corroborative proof I find in the Jews. They did not deny that He wrought miracles, but only tried to explain them away. In their Talmud, which dates back to the third century, it is acknowledged that “mighty works” were wrought by Him, but it is said that these were the results of magical arts which he had learned in Egypt. And the heathen bear similar testimony. Celsus admits Christ’s miracles. “Ye think Jesus to be the son of God,” he says, “because He healed the lame and the blind, and as ye say raised the dead.” And when he tries to deprive His miracles of their value as evidence of a Divine authority, it is by ascribing them, like the Jews, to His having learned magical arts in Egypt. (A. Oliver, B. A.)
Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God
The birth of the new man
Man is confronted with two facts.
1. The existence of evil.
2. The hope of deliverance. Christ here shows how this hope may be realized, viz., by a new birth, and by that alone.
I. WHY MUST THIS BE? Simply because to live in heaven we must have the life of heaven. Man can enter no world but by a birth, and to enter heaven, therefore, he must be born into it. To the heavenly world man is dead Ephesians 2:1). This is not his proper condition, nor was he created in or for it (Genesis 1:26-27). But very soon his life went out. Adam fell, and begat sons and daughters in his own image; and we, the children of this fallen head, like the descendants of some king who has been dethroned, by generations of bondage have well-nigh forgotten the traditions of their father’s glory, and become utterly unfit to fill his place. All do not feel this death. The fact is hidden by present cares, pleasures, or occupations. For this reason men love the world. It keeps them from coming to the painful fact. But God in mercy sometimes removes these things that the salutary pain may be felt, and the necessity of regeneration seen.
II. HOW CAN THIS BE? Regeneration, the re-quickening of God’s life in man, can only be effected by Him who has that life--the Son of God.
1. Regeneration has been wrought for us in Christ. In Him man again received God’s life by the coming of the eternal life to dwell in the flesh. This was the beginning, but it could not be perfected until death, by which man in Christ reentered heaven.
2. To come where Christ is the self-same thing must be wrought in us by the Holy Spirit. God’s nature must be first re-quickened by our receiving the Word (2 Peter 1:4; John 1:4), and then there must be a delivery from the fallen old man by the Cross, i.e, through death, to our present nature.
3. Of this new man, Christ formed in us, Christ Himself is the prelude and figure in the progress of His humanity from the humiliation at Bethlehem to the glory of heaven. (Andrew Jukes.)
The new birth
I. WHAT WERE THESE WORDS MEANT TO EXPRESS TO THE HEBREW INQUIRER.
1. The Jews were expecting the revelation of the Messiah and of His kingdom. A few like the venerable Simeon looked forward to one who should save them from their sins. They believed as a few do now--when the tendency is to seek for the golden age in legislative enactments and reformed institutions--that what we want is, not something done for us in ameliorated outward conditions, but in individual education in grace and righteousness. The multitude, however, are always trusting in some political measure or social change to bring about the millenium of national well-being. So did the Jews, who, abiding in their sins, counted on a revolution of circumstances and a conquering Messiah who should exalt the land. The constant indulgence of this dream operated to make them more and more vulgar and coarse in soul, and in Christ’s time they had sunk to be very mean and low. And now here at length stood the veritable Messiah in their midst, and of course they could not comprehend Him. Having by prolonged communion with their carnal idea deadened their spiritual susceptibility, they were blind to the royalty of Divine character and Divine truth.
2. When Nicodemus, therefore, came to Christ for information about the Messianic reign, it was in reference to the incapacity of his and his countrymen’s worldliness that our Lord said, “In your present moral state you are unable to take in the idea of it, and you never will be unless you become inwardly another creature. You must begin to be and live afresh.” The phraseology was not new to Nicodemus. The Gentile who gave up his heathen creed and embraced Judaism was said to undergo a new birth. The ruler’s impression, therefore, would be that he must submit to a revolution in his Messianic ideas as a condition of instruction. How, he asked, could an old man like himself, whose opinions were too fixed for surrender, do that? Christ replies in terms which he could not fail to understand, that what was wanted was not a change of mental view, but of moral heart--an inward cleansing and an inward experience of Divine influence, without which it was impossible for him to perceive the reality or touch the circle of the Messianic kingdom.
III. WHAT TEACHING IS THERE HERE FOR US?
1. The kingdom of God is simply the reign of God; and to enter it is to become subject to Him. But since this reign is everlasting ann universal, and since all must be subject to it, the kingdom of God established by Christ, and within which we may or may not be found, must have a deeper, inwarder significance--even the reign of the righteous and merciful God over the individual affections and will. They, then, are in this kingdom who have come to be thus governed.
2. To enter that kingdom there must be a new birth; not a mere modification of original ground, but a fresh foundation--not an alteration of form, but a change of spirit. Look at those who are manifestly not in this kingdom: is it not obvious that to become so would not only constitute a great change, but would necessitate an antecedent great change in order to bring it about?
3. Christ is the Divine organ for the production of this inward change. (S. A. Tipple.)
The new birth
I. IS THERE SUCH A THING AS AN ENTIRE TRANSFORMATION OF CHARACTER? Certainly. Take a child of five, when it has a nascent character. At the beginning he is selfish, sharp, and irritable; but after the judicious training of a kind mother, by the time he is ten he has learned to restrain his temper and is becoming generous, and living on a different plane from that in which he started. But take a child who has had no such training, but has been brought up gross and violent and selfish, is it possible that there shall come a time when, by a sweeping influence from above, all the past may be effaced and all the future changed? Is it true that a life of forty years can be revolutionized in a moment? No; but a change can be begun in a moment. Here is a train rushing on a track which a few miles beyond will lead to a collision; but the brakesman turns it on to another line, and the danger is averted. The pressure measured an inch, and the train passed instantaneously, but its travel on the new track will be longer or shorter according to circumstances. A man has lived an indolent life up to five-and-twenty. Then his father breaks, and he finds himself without bread,or habits of industry. He knows, however, that he is ingenious, and goes to a cabinetmaker and agrees to stay for two years for board and clothes. The moment he is indentured he is changed. He was a do-nothing before; he is a do-something now. He was a man without purpose before, but now he is a man whose life is re-fashioned on the theory of industry. But did he know his trade? No. Still the change had taken place. A man is changed the moment his purpose is changed, if it be really radical and permanent.
II. LET US INQUIRE WHAT CONVERSION IS. Any change that takes a man away from that which is bad and carries him forward to that which is good, and gives him a purpose of making this new course a continuous thing, is conversion.
1. Conversion is sometimes simply Christian culture. “When a child is urged by a mother’s teaching and affection to love goodness, purity, spiritual excellence, and takes to it with all its little heart, that is conversion; i.e, it is character building on the right foundation. The world will never become Christian until the cradle is the sanctuary and the mother the minister, and day in and day out the child is brought up to manhood in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Is not the child as susceptible to training in spiritual as in social things? There is just as much reason in training for virtue and holiness as in training for any secular end. And it is far better that a child should never know where the point of transition is. This is the truest conversion and the best; but it does not follow that it is the only conversion.
2. A man is thrown out upon the world and gone into vice and crime, or into a lower form of selfish, proud, unsympathizing life. Oh, it is a blessed thing for him to know that he need not continue in the downward course for ever, and that there is provision made whereby when a man has gone wrong he may stop and grow right. Not that he can be transformed in the twinkling of an eye, but the change may begin when he resolves to turn from sin to God.
III. IS A MAN CONVERTED BY THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT OR BY HIS OWN WILL? By both. The Divine Spirit is atmospheric, and becomes personal when any one appropriates it. The sunlight has in it all harvests, but we do not reap until that sunlight is appropriated by some root, leaf, blossom. Some say we must wait for the Spirit; as reasonable as to say we must wait for the sun when it is a cloudless afternoon; and what time any man accepts the influence of the Divine Spirit and co-operates with it, that moment the work is done by the stimulus of God acting with the practical energy and will of the human soul.
IV. WHAT ARE THE EVIDENCES OF CONVERSION?
1. The consciousness of a new and heavenly life, whether we can trace the time of its origin or not, or whether it came to us through agonies of remorse or the sweet, quiet influences of Christian nurture.
2. The fruits of the regenerating Spirit--love, joy, peace, etc.
3. Advancement, growth, development in the things that please God. (H. W.Beecher.)
I. ITS NATURE.
1. It is something that is not merely done for a man, but is done upon him. The former is justification, which is a change of state in the reckoning of law, whereas regeneration changes the man himself and gives him a new character. This being the case, regeneration is conscious, whereas justification is not. Is there then in each of us such a character of holiness as no natural temperament, civilization, learning, maxims of prudence or courtesy could have formed, and without such as is not dishonouring to God to ascribe to the agency of the Spirit?
2. Regeneration being something which is done on a man’s person, it is his mind, not his body, which undergoes the change, although the regenerated mind may have a beneficent effect upon the body.
3. Regeneration being mental, it is effected, not on the faculties of the understanding, but on the passions and affections of the will. These faculties do often, as a matter of fact, undergo considerable improvement, but it is in consequence of the incitement with which regeneration has supplied them. It will not make a bad memory good, but it frequently stirs up a sluggish memory.
4. Regeneration is not an organic change, in respect of the extinction or addition of any passion or power; but entirely a functional change, in respect of the direction of the powers, so that their emotions are expended on different objects from those to which they were formerly directed. Take, for example, the change produced on the passions of love and anger.
II. ITS CHARACTERISTICS.
1. It is a change of heart from a state of carelessness about God, or slavish fear of Him, or enmity against Him, into a state of filial reverence, confidence and obedience; of admiration of Him, gratitude towards Him, dependence on Him, loyalty towards Him.
2. It is a change of mind in which the name of Jesus was wearied of, or resented, or despised, or maligned, into a state in which, in union with that of the Eternal Father, it receives a place “above every name,” as most honoured for its excellence, most endeared for its love, and most loyally reverenced for the legitimacy of its claims.
3. It is a change from a state of mind in which the Name of the Holy Spirit obtained no acknowledgment, into a state in which it is cherished, in union with the names of Father and Son, as the Comforter, Counsellor, and Advocate of the soul.
4. It is a change from a state in which the gratification of the flesh, or the avoidance of its pains, or the culture of the intellect, were matters of supreme importance, to a state in which holiness of heart is the principal concern.
5. It is a change from a state in which this world is the object of greatest interest, into one where eternity is a name of the greatest fear and the greatest hope.
6. It is a change from a state of enmity against to one of love for man.
7. It is a change of feeling with reference to the Church, the Bible, and the means of grace. (W. Anderson, D. D.)
I. THE SUBJECT WHEREOF CHRIST ENTREATETH. A second birth.
1. The contents of it. It contains the seeds and habits of all graces; as original sin, to which it is opposed, contains the seeds of all sin (James 1:17-18): not only those natural graces we lost in Adam, but whatsoever belongs to our spiritual being in grace and glory.
2. The extent of it. The whole man, every part, answering to the infection of original sin. Hence described us leaven (Matthew 13:1-58.). Sometimes in natural generation a part of the body may be wanting, but there is no such defect in regeneration.
3. The notes and signs of it.
(a) Every life seeks its own preservation, so does this life that which is fit for itself (1 Peter 2:2; Colossians 3:1). Beasts seek after grass or prey: worldly men after worldly things; the regenerate after food for the soul and heavenly honours.
(b) Life feels that which is an enemy to it, as sickness. A dead man feels nothing. It is an evident sign of spiritual life to feel our corruptions.
(c) Life resists her enemy. So in the regenerate the spirit lusts against the flesh (Galatians 5:17), and rises in opposition to temptation.
(d) Life, if it be stronger than the enemy, is victorious. So the life of God being stronger than sin, the regenerate overcome the evil one.
(e) Life is active and stirring. We know that a motionless image, although it has the features of the human body, has no life in it.
So professors, without the powerful practice of godliness, have not the life of God in them.
4. The reason and ends of the name of it, viz., second birth.
II. WHAT HE AFFIRMS OF IT, that it is necessary to salvation Revelation 21:27; Hebrews 12:14). This necessity is set forth
1. The certainty. Verily (Amen) is doubled for greater certainty Genesis 41:32).
2. The universality. (J. Dyke.)
The expression “born again” was political. Gentiles were unclean, and to become Jewish citizens had to be baptized, and so cleansed became sons of Abraham by a new birth. “Naturalization “means the same thing. Finding the ceremony on foot, Christ takes advantage of it to represent the naturalization of a soul in the Kingdom of Heaven; taking water as the symbol, and the Spirit as the real cleansing power.
I. CHRIST REQUIRES OF ALL SOME GREAT AND IMPORTANT CHANGE AS THE NECESSARY CONDITION OF THEIR SALVATION.
1. Not, of course, of those who are already subjects of it, and many are so from their earliest infancy, having grown up into Christ by the preventing grace of their nurture in the Lord. But this is no real exception. Intelligence is not more necessary to our humanity than is second birth to salvation.
2. Many cannot admit this. It savours of hardness, and does not correspond with what they see of natural character. How can moral and lovely persons need to be radically changed? That depends upon whether the one thing is lacking or not. If it be Christ’s love will not modify His requirement.
3. Christianity is based upon the fact of this necessity. It is not any doctrine of development or self-culture, but a salvation. The very name Jesus is a false pretence, unless He has something to do for the race which the race cannot do for itself.
4. But how can we imagine that God will stand on any such rigid terms? He is very good and very great; may we not risk the consequences?
II. THE NATURE OF THE CHANGE.
1. Let some things which confuse the mind be excluded.
2. Observe how the Scriptures speak of it. Never as a change of degrees, an amendment of life, but a being born again, a spiritual reproduction, passing from death unto life, putting off the old man, transformation, all of which imply a change of kind. Had redemption been a mere making of us better, it would have been easy to say so. The gospel says the contrary. Growth comes, but there can be no growth without birth.
3. Try and accurately conceive the interior nature of the change.
III. THE MANNER IN WHICH THE CHANGE IS EFFECTED.
I. ITS NATURE.
2. Positively: An entire change of nature.
II. ITS CHARACTERISTICS.
1. It is instantaneous. There can be no medium between life and death. It differs from sanctification, which is progressive.
2. It is mysterious. We cannot tell how it takes place, or when or where it will take place.
3. It is universal. It affects the whole man, and governs all his character, powers, and conduct.
III. ITS EVIDENCES.
1. The condition of the regenerate is altered--the dead are made alive Ephesians 2:1); the blind see (Ephesians 5:8); the servants of Satan become Christ’s free men; His enemies His friends; the proud humble.
2. Their views are changed
3. Their pursuits are different.
4. Their enjoyments arise from a different source.
5. Their motives.
IV. ITS NECESSITY.
1. Without a change of heart we shall’ not be identified with the Church militant;
2. With the Church triumphant hereafter.
1. To the unregenerate, “Ye must be born again.”
2. To those who are resting in good works, etc., “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision,” etc.
3. To the regenerate. “Show forth the praises of Him who hath called you.” (R. Kemp.)
I. WHEREIN DOES REGENERATION CONSIST? In a radical supernatural change, the seat of which is the heart.
1. A just perception of spiritual objects, of the character and perfections of God, the Person and work of Christ, the gospel plan of salvation, the excellency of holiness, and the evil of sin. On all these the conceptions of the human mind are defective and erroneous, even with the light of reason and the aid of philosophy.
2. A taste for, and delight in, spiritual objects. This is given, not acquired. It may and must be cultivated, but regeneration is its beginning.
II. WHENCE DOES THE IMPORTANCE AND NECESSITY OF THIS CHANGE APPEAR?
1. From the uniform teaching of Scripture.
2. From the nature and employments of the heavenly kingdom.
3. From the utter unsuitableness of the unregenerate for the society, employment and pleasures of the kingdom.
4. From the value and preciousness of the soul. (W. Deering.)
The needful change implied in regeneration
The expression to be born again implies
I. A VAST MORAL CHANGE, the impartation of a principle of spiritual life and godliness to a heart entirely destitute of it, through which new affections, views, and state of the will are produced. The characteristics of the change are
1. The self-righteous man learns to trust in the Redeemer.
2. The enemy of God now loves Him.
3. The obdurate becomes penitent.
4. The disobedient becomes obedient.
5. The earthly-minded now seeks things above.
II. THE AGENCY.
1. Not by baptism, thought, reading, the following of good examples, fear, the intrinsic efficacy of prayer, or the merit of any reforms and confessions.
2. But by the Holy Ghost. Various means may concur, but He is the solitary agent.
III. THE NECESSITY OF THE CHANGE is seen in
1. The opposition which it meets with from the world.
2. The agent. If it be wrought by the Spirit it must be necessary; for “if any man have not the Spirit of Christ,” etc.
3. Natural disqualification for the kingdom of God.
1. Make this a practical question.
2. Never forget that the new birth is accomplished only by God.
3. Think of the great blessings it brings. (B. W. Noel, M. A.)
Regeneration necessary to a capacity for heaven
Consider what heaven is.
I. SOCIETY WITH CHRIST. Christ prayed that those whom the Father gave Him might be with Him. Paul tells us that we shall be for ever with the Lord, and John that the glorified see Christ’s face. Should you like to be with Christ at this moment? With that Prophet to whom you will not listen! That High Priest whose atonement you despise! That King on whose laws you trample!
II. THE ABODE OF THOSE WHO LOVE CHRIST. “Eye hath not seen,” etc. Do you imagine that it will give you joy to be with those whose every pulse beats in admiration of Christ? Try it now. Would you choose their society as that which would give you pleasure? Do you not shun it, because your heart is alienated from Christ.
III. WHERE THE PURE IN HEART ARE, and the spirits of just men made perfect; where there is no fault. Are you ready for that company? Why there is not one of the habits and sentiments of heaven that does not thwart and contradict and condemn your own. Conclusion.
1. Do you venture to think that death will effect a change? The Word of God forbids the expectation.
2. If by any means you could enter heaven as you are, it would be your hell. (B. W. Noel, M. A.)
Regeneration necessary to admission into heaven
The reasons which illustrate the statement of our text are most plain.
I. THE CHARACTER OF GOD WOULD BE DEGRADED by the admission of the unregenerate into heaven. God placed man here for His glory, endowed him with many faculties, lavished His love, revealed His will, and for this purpose, a purpose which man has frustrated wholesale by doing the abominable thing that He hates.
II. IT WOULD PUT THE GREATEST DISHONOUR ON THE NAME OF CHRIST, who has come into the world to die for sinners, and offers them peace here and glory hereafter. Notwithstanding all this, He is actually or virtually rejected. To bring the unregenerate to heaven, therefore, would be on some other ground than that Christ has died. Can God the Father do it? Nay, it is His will that all should honour the Son as they honour Him.
III. IT WOULD DISHONOUR THE HOLY SPIRIT, whose work is to convince of sin, sanctify, and prepare men for heaven. All this is set before the unregenerate; and instead of receiving His grace, they do despite unto it; and those who do this, the apostle tells us, will die without mercy.
IV. IT WOULD INFLICT A WOUND ON THE HAPPINESS OF EVERY GLORIFIED SAINT. It would be like the introduction of a pestilence into that pure climate. The story of Eden would be renewed, and heaven ultimately become like earth. (B. W. Noel, M. A.)
The regenerate endowed with a meetness for heaven and a title to it
As certainly as the unregenerate are excluded from heaven shall the regenerate find admission there.
I. WHAT IS THE TITLE? The merit of Christ applied to the soul of the sinner. The first characteristic of a regenerate soul is that he believes. So he who is regenerate, being a believer in Christ, has the one title to everlasting life.
II. WHAT IS THE PREPARATION.
1. Love to the Saviour, “Whom having not seen ye love.” How can they do otherwise? And they prove their love by the application of every test that is available--zeal, delight in communion with Him, friendship with His people, obedience to His will.
2. As the glorified are also made perfect in holiness, the regenerate are being sanctified, and their hearts are being purified to see God.
3. As in heaven God’s “servants serve Him,” so the regenerate are prepared to join them by holy, ungrudging, joyful activity.
4. If it be a characteristic of heaven that its inhabitants are lifted above all that is low in the inferior world and are occupied with spiritual pleasures and employments, so the regenerate, led by the Spirit, set their affections on things above.
III. THIS IS TRUE OF THE WHOLE MULTITUDE OF THOSE WHO ARE REGENERATE BY GRACE. The promise is not made to vigorous faith and experienced piety, and unusual attainments, but to faith in its least beginnings, to holiness in its simplest elements, to the very first and feeblest work of Divine grace. In conclusion. The danger of the unregenerate serves to fasten on our minds the importance of this great change, and the blessedness attached to it should animate us to seek it. (B. W. Noel, M. A.)
The means of becoming regenerate
I. THE AGENT is God alone, by His Spirit. If therefore any man denies this work of the Spirit, he has every reason to believe he will be lost.
II. THE INSTRUMENTALITY which the Spirit uses.
1. The Word of God, principally as a revelation of the grace of Christ. The Spirit takes of the things of Christ, and manifests them to the soul. “Of His own will begat He us by the word of truth.”
2. But while we are called to use this instrumentality, there are many habits of the ungodly man which incapacitate him from using the Scriptures well, and which must be removed. Levity, worldliness, pride; every habit of known sin must be broken off.
3. The Scripture next directs
III. THE ACTUAL PROCESS. In the use of the various means the Spirit meets the unconverted and
1. Humbles him with a revelation of Christ, and convicts him of the sin of unbelief, and leads him to a realization of his ruined condition.
2. Creates the desire for salvation, and helps him to wrestle with God for it.
3. Instructs and assists the penitent to embrace the offer of salvation. He believes in Christ, and commits himself to Christ.
4. Believing in the Son of God, he is admitted into the Divine family. And then
5. Leads the now renewed person to gratitude and delight in the commands of God; and never leaves him till that regeneration is completed in entire renovation, when he re.attains to the lost image of God, and is conducted through grace to glory. (B. W. Noel, M. A.)
Repentance before theology
The way to begin a Christian life is not to study theology. Piety before theology. Right living will produce right thinking. Yet many men, when their consciences are aroused, run for catechisms, and commentaries, and systems. They do not mean to be shallow Christians. They intend to be thorough, if they enter upon the Christian life at all. Now, theologies are well in their place; but repentance and love must come before all other experiences. First a cure for your sin-sick soul, and then theologies. Suppose a man were taken with the cholera, and, instead of sending for a physician, he should send to a book-store, and buy all the books which have been written on the human system, and, while the disease was working in his vitals, he should say, “I’ll not put myself in the hands of any of these doctors. I shall probe this thing to the bottom.” Would it not be better for him first to be cured of the cholera? (H. W.Beecher.)
The need of sinners is to be born again
Suppose they could be born again. Suppose they could be made to love the things which they now hate, and hate the things which they now love. New hearts and right spirits are the need of London outcasts. How can these be produced? In the hand of God the Holy Ghost, this is exactly what faith works in the heart. Here is a watch. “It wants cleaning.” Yes, clean it. “It does not go now it wants a new glass.” Well, put in a new glass. “It does not go any the more. It wants new hands.” Get new hands by all means. Still it does not go. What is the matter with it? The maker says that it needs a mainspring. There’s the seat of the evil: nothing can be right till that is rectified. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The heart must be changed
A man may beat down the bitter fruit from an evil tree until he is weary; whilst the root abides in strength and vigour, the beating down of the present fruit will not hinder it from bringing forth more. This is the folly of some men; they set themselves with all earnestness and diligence against the appearing eruption of lust, but leaving the principle and root untouched, perhaps unsearched out, they make but little or no progress in this work of mortification. (John Owen.)
Regeneration preceded by conviction
If you had an old house, and any friend of yours were to say, “John, I will build you a new house. When shall I begin?” “Oh!” you might say, “begin next week to build the new house.” At the end of the week he has pulled half your old house down. “Oh,” say you, “this is what you call building me a new house, is it? You are causing me great loss: I wish I had never consented to your proposal.” He replies, “You are most unreasonable: how am I to build you a new house on this spot without taking the old one down?” And so it often happens that the grace of God does seem in its first work to make a man even worse than he was before, because it discovers to him sins which he did not know to be there, evils which had been concealed, dangers never dreamed of. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
It is that great change which God works in the soul, when He brings it into life; when He raises it from the death of sin to the life of righteousness. It is the change wrought in the whole soul by the Almighty Spirit of God, when it is “created anew in Christ Jesus,” when it is “renewed after the image of God, in righteousness and true holiness”; when the love of the world is changed into the love of God, pride into humility, passion into meekness; hatred, envy, malice, into a sincere, tender, disinterested love for all mankind. In a word, it is that change whereby the earthly, sensual, devilish mind is turned into the “mind which was in Christ Jesus.” This is the nature of the new birth. “So is every one that is born of the Spirit.” (J. Wesley.)
The need of regeneration
If I enter a place where there is a musical performance, my ticket entitles me to cross the threshold; but if I have no musical ear, I can have no enjoyment. In the same manner, if you have a right in something done for you that will warrant and enable you to cross the threshold of heaven, yet if you have no heart prepared for the exercises and the joys of heaven it can be no happiness to you. (Dr. Cumming.)
The heart must be changed
A man may be reformed in his habits and yet not be transformed in his heart. When the icicles are hanging in winter from the eaves of a cottage, will it suffice that the inhabitant should take his axe and hew them down one by one till the fragments are scattered in powdery ruin upon the pavement beneath? Will the work so done be done effectually? Surely a few hours’ warm shining of the sun would do it in a far better and much shorter way? (Ryland.)
Conversion a change of nature
How foolish and ignorant we should deem an artificer who, having taken a piece of iron, should melt and mould, file and polish it, and then imagine that it has become gold. It shines, it is true, but is its brilliancy a proof that it is no longer iron? And does not God require pure and refined gold, that is to say, a perfect righteousness and a perfect holiness! Say, ye sages of this world, shall any metal but that of the sanctuary find currency in heaven? Or shall God mistake what is false for what is genuine, and shall He confound the hypocritical outward show of human morality with that everlasting life which partakes of His own nature, and which the Holy Spirit alone implants within the soul which He has new created?
Regeneration more than reformation
It is not mere reformation; not the renovation of that which was dilapidated--the repairing of the old house, and making it as good as new; bat it is a reconstruction of the house upon a new foundation--the house itself being built anew from that foundation to the copestone. The meaning of this, however, is not that the renewed man is then a different being as to his identity. The house in which the leprosy had become a fretting plague, when taken down every stone of it, and built again in due time, was not a different house from that which it had previously been. The materials were still the same--the design and form were the same even to the most minute details; and, in the case of the new birth, the “spirit, and soul, and body,” are the same in personal identity, but they are “made new.” (J. Beith, D. D.)
Regeneration a great change
Dr. Lelfchild tells us that he once met a lad twelve years old at a tollgate, who had a Testament in his hand. “Can you read it?” inquired the doctor. “To be sure I can. I can read to you this, ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’“ “What does that mean, my boy?” The lad quickly replied. “It means a great change. To be born again means something here” (laying his hand upon his breast), “and the kingdom of God means something up yonder.” That boy had got hold of the very core of Bible theology. But what was so clearly revealed to that lad in his Bible was yet a mystery and a puzzle to the Jewish ruler.
The physical effects of regeneration
In the case of the drunkard there are two diseases in him: one of the mind, the other of the body; the one a depravation of his affections, the other a vitiation of his nerves. Now when such a person comes to be regenerated, the process does not cure the disease; the craving continues for some time; and when at last the nerves may be restored to a healthful tone, and the regenerated man is no longer tormented with the woeful thirst, this is not the result of any healing power put forth by the regenerating Spirit on his bodily organization, but the natural physiological effect of his regenerated mind having resolutely adopted habits of sobriety. So it is with all other habits and appetites. It is the mind alone on which regeneration acts, and the mind when changed reduces the rebellious flesh to order. (W. Anderson, D. D.)
The terms of regeneration
It is called a renovation of the soul, or its being made new; a transformation of the soul on its being changed into another likeness; a translating of the soul, or its being brought from one position and placed in another; a quickening of the soul, or its receiving new life; a resurrection of the soul, or its being raised from the dead; a new creation of the soul, or its being created anew by Him who made it; the washing of the soul, or its purification from defilement; the healing of the soul, or its deliverance from disease; the liberation of the soul, or its emancipation from bondage; the awakening of the soul, or its being aroused out of sleep; and it is compared to the change wrought in the blind when they receive their sight; on the deaf when their hearing is restored; on the lepers when they are cleansed; on the dead when they are raised to life. (J. Buchanan, D. D.)
The necessity of regeneration
If birth and religious advantages could do anything to put a man into the kingdom of God, Nicodemus could surely claim to be there. His descent went back without a break to Abraham, to whom is was pledged that in his seed should the whole earth be blessed; he belonged to a nation marked off as God’s peculiar people by deliverances and promises such as belonged to no others. If ever a man could claim to belong to God by religious observance and association this man could. Upon him was the sign and seal of his belonging to God, the mark of that initial sacrament with all its significance; he was constant in prayer, in the study of the Scriptures, and in the observance of the law. If external ceremonies could set a man in the kingdom of God, none could stand more securely than Nicodemus, who through every day and every hour of his life was subject to all kind of religious exercises, and ceremonies carried out with a scrupulous jealousy. If religion is in notions, scriptural and orthodox notions, in reverent feelings, in devout prayers, in generous sentiments, here then is a man in need of nothing. Yet this is the man to whom it is spoken, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” What then, was all this a cumbersome folly? This Jewish arrangement of training and worship; circumcision, altars, priests, sacrifices, prophecies--was it all no good, even though God Himself had arranged and commanded it? Even so; it was all useless, unless there is something more, and greater than it all. No good, precisely as food and light and air, as education and commerce and civilization, are no good to a dead man. Put life into him--then all these things shall wait upon him and minister to him and bless him. But he must live first. Sacraments, services, sermons, Scriptures, creeds, may minister to life--but there must be life first of all. (Mark Guy Pearse.)
The great change
I. ITS NATURE: entirely spiritual.
1. In its subject--the soul. It is not an external reform merely, but an internal renovation--a change of mind and heart taking effect
2. In its Author--the Spirit of God. It belongs to Him
3. In its means--the Word of God.
II. ITS CONCOMITANTS.
1. Precedent instruction, conviction, repentance, faith.
2. Consequent progressive sanctification.
III. ITS NECESSITY.
1. From the fallen nature of man. An unconverted man is out of the kingdom of God, and is incapable of entering it until born again.
2. From the character of God. No unregenerate man can enter the kingdom of God, because
(1) It is impossible for God to do what implies a manifest contradiction, such as is involved in the idea that a fleshly mind can, without a radical change, become the subject of a spiritual kingdom.
(a) Rescind the law of His moral government.
(b) Depart from His declared design in the scheme of redemption.
(c) Reverse the moral constitution of man.
(d) Alter the whole character of His kingdom. (J. Buchanan, D. D.)
The lesson by night
I. The clear deliverance, by implication at least, on the doctrine of THE COMPLETE DEPRAVITY OF HUMAN NATURE. It is to this man with his morality and unblemished life, a teacher of the only true religion, and not to some sin-defiled creature, that the Saviour speaks. Christ knew what was in man, and this is in man.
II. THE RADICAL CHARACTER OF THE RELIGION OF CHRIST. In order to meet this great need religion goes to the root of everything within us, transforming all and “creates us anew in Christ Jesus.”
III. THE INEXORABLE CHARACTER OF THIS REQUIREMENT. It is a law of the kingdom of Christ never to be annulled.
1. One man comes strong in life’s integrities.
2. Another radiant in social charities.
3. Another religious according to his own ideas.
They see the gates open, but the law shines above it, “Except,” etc. These virtues do not go far enough, and leave untouched life’s centre and essence. At the root of all virtues is the claim which God has on the love of His creatures. A just man who “robs God”! A tender-hearted man who has no love for Jesus Christi A religious man who expects to get into the kingdom by outward ordinances! What contradictions!
IV. Although this law is radical and inexorable, THERE IS NOTHING UNIFORM AS TO TIMES AND MODES. There is endless variety. It may be by love or fear, with difficulty or ease, etc. It follows the lines of our individuality, and is suitable to our circumstances.
V. THIS GREAT CHANGE IS VERY BLESSED. Why should it be regarded as a stern necessity? It is a glorious privilege. It is described as seeing or entering a kingdom of which God is King; as being born again into the family of which God is Father. Philosophy tells me to think again and be wiser, and I think till my brain is giddy. Morality tells me I must act again and be better, and I whip my conscience, but make little way. Philanthrophy tells me to feel again with quicker sympathy. But in that I fail. Priesthood and priestcraft tell me that I must pray, etc., again. Yes! but the burden of it. Jesus tells me I must be born again. That is gospel for me. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
Regeneration, or the second birth
I. WHAT IS REGENERATION?
1. Not a ritual or ceremonial change. Outward washing cannot confer inward grace. The spirit birth is necessary for admission into the spiritual kingdom.
2. Not morality. Good citizenship, honesty, integrity, natural affection, may elevate and bless this human life; but more is necessary to qualify for saintly and Divine fellowship in the upper world.
3. Not self-culture.
4. Regeneration is coming into the Divine realm, into the spiritual kingdom, into right relations with God and heaven, through Jesus Christ. It is a new life, above the senses, above the earthly, above the material. It is the faith faculty. No more aliens, but children.
II. HOW MAY I KNOW THAT I HAVE BEEN BORN AGAIN, THAT I AM A CHILD OF GOD?
1. The direct witness of the Holy Ghost.
2. The conjoint testimony of our own spirit. My consciousness affirms the fact.
3. The predominance of grace. The new government is supreme. The renewed soul stands ready for orders.
4. There will be difficulty in sinning. The new nature shrinks from sin as a tender and sensitive plant shrinks,from the north wind’s blast.
5. There will be affinity for God. Fellowship with Father and Son.
6. There will be Christian joy and comfort. The rapture of a soul rescued from sin and hell, and adopted into God’s family.
III. THE NECESSITY OF REGENERATION. Spiritual life is an essential condition for the spiritual kingdom. Without it you can have no vital union with God, and no knowledge of the spiritual life. What would you do in heaven with an unregenerated nature? A stranger in a strange land; a beggar amid bounty; blind amid beauty; deaf amid waves of song; hungry, yet with no taste for heavenly joys--you would be out of place there. (C. P.Masden, D. D.)
How can a man be born when he is old?
The incredulous listener
I. THE AMAZED INTERROGATION (John 3:4).
1. Its origination: astonishment and perplexity.
2. Its intention: investigation and inquiry.
3. Its explanation: the new birth an impossibility.
II. THE SUBLIME ELUCIDATION.
1. The exposition (John 3:5), in which are noticeable
2. The argumentation (John 3:6). The law of propagation is one throughout the realm of animated existence--every creature after its kind.
III. THE SUBLIME ILLUSTRATION.
1. The natural phenomenon: the wind, selected as an emblem of the Spirit, probably because of
2. The spiritual interpretation (John 3:8). The Spirit’s grace is like the wind in respect of
1. The natural blindness of the understanding in the region of the Spirit.
2. The hopefulness of those who bring their intellectual and moral difficulties to Christ.
3. The danger of reasoning that what is impossible in nature must be impossible in grace.
4. The moral impotence of human nature.
5. The necessity of regeneration. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
The reasoning with Nicodemus
I. A RE-ASSERTION OF THE PREVIOUS DOCTRINE WITH SOME CHANGE IN THE FORM OF EXPRESSION.
1. We must be born of water. This describes a change of condition, from guilt and condemnation to righteousness and acceptance. “Water” emblematically represents Christ’s obedience as the substitute of those who are saved by Him, and to be “born” represents the application of that obedience for salvation. Baptism is the symbol el this change of condition.
2. We must be born of the Spirit, which describes a change of character as distinguished from a change in condition. This change may be small in its beginnings. It is the origin which has progress unto perfection for its completion. With this new life and its growth will come the gradual decay of all unholy principles, until they are wholly destroyed.
II. AN ARGUMENT IN SUPPORT OF THE NECESSITY OF REGENERATION.
1. That which is born of the flesh is flesh.
2. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
I. Nicodemus did not deny the doctrine of the new birth; he merely started a difficulty. He was a literalist, and doubted the exactness of the term born: it was too specific in its common meaning to be literally applied to anything else. Christ’s answer was consistent with His whole method of teaching. The strangeness of His language excited attention, provoked thought, and awakened controversy, and so through a process of inquiry and strife men entered into the mystery of His rest. It seems as if every one must at some time have doubts and anguish of heart respecting Christ and His kingdom.
II. Nicodemus was one of those persons who always ground their course on facts. The facts which he had observed led to the conclusion that Christ was a teacher come from God, because of His miracles: an admission of the utmost importance. If the works are from God, what of the words? Yet important as the admission was, Christ returned an answer which apparently had no bearing on the subject of miracles; and yet He did not evade it. He showed incidentally the true position and value of His mighty works. They were symbolic of one great miracle, and unless a man is the subject of that miracle, his belief in other miracles will not admit him into the kingdom of heaven. Other miracles were to be looked at, were public, material, gave new views; the miracle of regeneration was to be felt, was personal, moral, and gave new life.
III. This call from outward circumstances to the deepest experience of the soul naturally suggested the question “How can these things be?” Christ’s answer does not clear the original mystery. His meaning is that we are not to deny results because we cannot understand processes. We may see a renewed life, but cannot see the renewing spirit. In His metaphor Christ found a common law in nature and in grace; the Spirit is the same whether He direct the course of the wind or renew the springs of the heart. Man occupies an outside position. There are limitations to his knowledge. He does not understand himself; The atom baffles him. The wise man only knows his own folly.
IV. These considerations show the spirit in which the subject of the new birth should be approached--one of self-restraint, of conscious limitation of ability, of preparedness to receive not a confirmation of speculative opinion but a Divine revelation. The shock of this new life comes differently.
1. Sometimes on the intellectual side, as in the case of Nicodemus, throwing into confusion the theories of a lifetime.
2. Sometimes on the selfish instincts, as in the case of the rich young man who cannot give his possessions to the poor.
3. Sometimes on the natural sensibilities, as in the case of Bunyan. Hence the folly of setting up a common standard. A man only knows the agonies of the new birth by giving up what be prizes most.
V. What Jesus Christ has left a mystery it would be presumption to attempt to explain. We hear the sound of the wind, we cannot follow it all the way. Can we explain how a child is born? when the child is displaced by the man? the origin and succession of ideas? Yet as the sound of the wind is heard, so there are results which prove the fact of our regeneration. These of course may be simulated, just as a watch may be altered by the hands and not by the regulator, or as the ruddiness of the cheek may be artificial and not natural. The re-generate man is known by the spirit which animates his life.
1. He lives by rule, but it is the unwritten and unchanging rule of love.
2. He advances in orderliness, but it is the orderliness not of mechanical stipulation, but of vigorous and affluent life.
3. He is constantly strengthened and ennobled by an inextinguishable ambition to be filled with all the fulness of Christ. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
Water riseth no higher than the spring whence it came; so the natural man can ascend no higher than nature. (J. Trapp.)
It is said that Robert Hall once visited a poor man in his sickness; and, during his conversation with him, the man every now and then knocked with a stick the board at the head of the bed. Mr. Hall, rather annoyed by this interruption, asked his reason for such strange conduct. The man replied, that the Bible commanded him to knock, and it should be opened unto him.
Ignorance in learned men
“I used frequently,” says Cecil, “to visit Dr. Bacon at his living near Oxford. He would frequently say to me, ‘What are you doing? What are your studies?’ ‘I am reading so-and-so.’ ‘You are quite wrong. When I was young I could turn any piece of Hebrew into Greek verse with ease. But when I came into this parish, and had to teach ignorant people, I was wholly at a loss; I had no furniture. They thought me a great man, but that was their ignorance, for I knew as little as they did of what it was most important for them to know. Study chiefly what you can turn to good account in your future life.”
Ignorance of religion
Samuel Wesley visited one of his parishioners as he was upon his dying bed--a man who had never missed going to church in forty years. “Thomas, where do you think your soul will go?” “Soul!, soul!” said Thomas. “Yes, sir,” said Mr. Wesley, “do you not know what your soul is?” “Ay, surely,” said Thomas; “why it is a little bone in the back that lives longer than the body.” “So much,” says John Wesley, who related it on the authority of Dr. Lupton, who had it from his father, “had Thomas learned from hearing sermons, and exceedingly good sermons, for forty years.” (Anecdotes of the Wesleys.)
Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit
The Holy Spirit’s work
The translation of the soul from “death to life,” “from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God,” is ascribed to the Holy Spirit.
I. Its necessity.
1. As natural birth is necessary to our present existence, so also is spiritual birth to our spiritual existence.
2. Unless we are born of the Spirit we “cannot see the kingdom of God.” Spiritual things are spiritually discerned.
3. Without this birth no man “can enter the kingdom of God.” Nominal membership in the Church will not save us. It is only as we are spiritually born that we may confidently hope to enter heaven.
II. ITS NATURE.
1. It is divine or spiritual in its origin: “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
2. It is a supernatural change, “Except a man be born again,” or, as in the margin, “from above.”
3. It is the impartation of a new principle of a spiritual life, “Whereas I was blind, now I see.” Before the change we “were dead in trespasses and sins”; but after it we are “made alive unto God.”
4. It is a cleansing of the soul from all sin in the blood of Jesus Christ. (L. O.Thompson.)
No admission to heaven but by the new birth
I. WHAT WE WERE TO UNDERSTAND BY THE KINGDOM OF GOD. This expression seems to have been borrowed from the Book of Daniel 2:44; Dan_7:13-14), and hence it was in common use amongst the Luke 17:20; Luk_19:11), and they justly supposed it to mean, the kingdom of the Messiah; only imagining, in the pride and carnality of their hearts, and in direct opposition to many passages of their own Scriptures, that it would be of a temporal nature, established by human policy and power. The kingdom of the Messiah is termed the kingdom of God; because by Him the kingdom of Satan is overthrown, men are rescued from his power (Acts 26:18), and made the subjects of God, the kingdom of God is set up on earth, and displayed in power and glory. This kingdom is to be considered in two parts; in a state of infancy, imperfection, and warfare, on earth, in which it is continually receiving fresh subjects, making fresh conquests, and is enlarged more and more; and in a state of triumph and full perfection in heaven.
II. IN WHAT SENSE MUST WE BE BORN OF WATER AND OF THE SPIRIT THAT WE MAY ENTER THIS KINGDOM.
1. Birth by water implies baptism (Mark 16:16). When administered by the apostles to adults, it was only to such as repented and believed Acts 2:38; Act_8:36-37), and hence was considered an outward and visible sign of cleansing from past sin and pardon (Acts 22:16; Act_13:8). This is a relative change, a change of state. But
2. Birth of the Spirit is a real change; a change of nature (2Co Galatians 6:15; Ephesians 4:22-23).
3. It is termed a birth because it may be illustrated by the natural birth.
III. THE GRAND NECESSITY, REASONABLENESS, AND HAPPY CONSEQUENCES OF THIS BIRTH.
1. Flesh means not so much our animal and mortal as our depraved nature Genesis 6:3; Gen_8:21; Romans 8:9; Galatians 5:16). Man has sunk under the dominion of his senses, appetites and passions. Men are therefore naturally unfit for the kingdom (Romans 8:5; Rom_8:9; Ephesians 5:5). Hence arises the necessity of being born again.
2. The Spirit having begotten us again, and inwardly changed us, we become spiritual. Endued with the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9); with the life, light, power, purity, and comfort, which he imparts. Free from the dominion of the flesh, we become heavenly, overcoming the world (1 John 5:4-5). Holy, not committing sin (1 John 3:9), having power over it, and over “the law in the members” (Romans 7:23); walking “not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1), “crucifying the flesh with its affections and lusts,” and “led by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16-25); divine, resembling God in love and in all its fruits (1 John 4:7; Joh_8:16). We thus are made fit subjects for the kingdom of Christ on earth and in heaven.
IV. HOW WE MAY EXPERIENCE THIS NEW BIRTH. The Author of it is the Spirit of God; the means by which it is effected are the Word of God John 17:17). (J. Benson.)
I. IT IS CLEARLY OPPOSED TO THE SPIRIT AND DESIGN OF OUR LORD’S DISCOURSE TO NICODEMUS (cf. John 3:3; Joh_3:6; Joh_3:8; and Mark 16:1-20., where “believeth not” is disassociated from baptism)
II. IT IS OPPOSED TO THE DECLARATION AND PRACTICE OF ST. PAUL (1 Corinthians 1:14-18). Had it regenerated, his wisest method would have been to baptize.
III. It has AN AWFUL AND MOST UNSCRIPTURAL ASPECT ON THE DESTINY OF THE UNBAPTIZED. Think of the myriads infant and adult who on this hypothesis are lost, and contrast it with “Suffer little children,” etc.
IV. IT OFFERS GREAT DISHONOUR TO THE HOLY SPIRIT, AND IS AT VARIANCE WITH SCRIPTURAL VIEWS OF THE NATURE AND EFFICACY OF HIS REGENERATING AND SANCTIFYING GRACE. Look at thousands who have been baptized. Have they fallen from grace? When did they ever evidence the possession of it?
V. IT IS CALCULATED TO PRODUCE THE MOST RUINOUS DELUSIONS, that a man is safe by a mere ceremonial without a moral change.
VI. IT DIVERTS THE MIND FROM THE TRANSCENDENT IMPORTANCE OF DIVINE TRUTH AND FIXES ITS ATTENTION ON EXTERNAL OBSERVANCES. The truth is the agency which the Scripture set forth of regeneration. (H. F.Burder, D. D.)
The general teaching of our Lord
I. THAT THERE SHOULD BE A CHANGE IN THE CONDITION OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE that it was not sufficient for them to do the works of the law if they would be saved; and that with this change the old rites had passed away.
II. THAT FROM HENCEFORTH THE RELATIONSHIP OF MEN TO GOD WAS TO BE A NEAR RELATIONSHIP, for a new birth implies a new filiation, and that whereas they had been in the state of servants, this should pass away and they become sons.
III. THAT THE GATES OF HEAVEN, THE NEW JERUSALEM, WERE NOW THROUGH THE NEW BIRTH TO BE OPENED TO ALL MEN, both Jews and Gentiles, that none could see the kingdom of God without the new birth, but that the new born should see and enter that kingdom.
IV. THAT ALL THESE BLESSINGS SHOULD BE THROUGH CHRIST. (Beaux Amis.)
The baptism of water and of the Spirit
The Spirit in regeneration worketh like water.
I. Water hath the property of ABLUTION, to wash away the filth of our bodies. So the Spirit
1. Besprinkling us with the blood of Christ assureth us that the guilt of sin is taken away, and
2. Applying to us the virtue of Christ’s death causes sin to die, and so washes away the filth of sin and sanctifies us. And this is the first degree of spiritual life, to have sin die and decay in us, as Paul (Galatians 2:20) joins his being crucified with Christ, and living by faith in Christ, together.
II. Water causes FRUITFULNESS, as drought does famine (Job 8:11). Hence was Egypt’s fruitfulness, because of the Nile’s inundations. And hence the regenerate man is compared to the trees planted by the rivers of water (Psalms 1:1-6.), because the presence of the Holy Ghost is the same to them, that waters to the willows (Isaiah 44:3-5).
III. Water cools and allays heat (Psalms 42:1). So the Spirit cools the heat of our raging and accusing consciences pursued by the law. (J. Dyke.)
I. THE KINGDOM OF GOD. The expression was a Jewish one, and the Jew would understand by it society perfected. That domain on earth where God was visible and God ruled. The Jewish kingdom was a theocracy: a kingdom in which God’s power was manifest by miracles, and in which His laws were promulgated. This was Nicodemus’ conception. He saw that Christ fulfilled the two requisites of a Divine mission--asserting a living will ruling over the laws of nature. He had seen a society growing up in acknowledgment of the rule of a person. But Christ asserted the necessity that the subject should be prepared for the kingdom. He distinguished between the visible and the invisible kingdom--the presence that man can see, and the presence that man can feel. Nicodemus saw Christ first when he gazed on the miracles. Christ told him he could not see or enter the other save by being barn again.
II. THE ENTRANCE TO THIS KINGDOM. As there is a twofold kingdom, so a twofold entrance.
1. By the baptism of water. We enter the kingdom by our senses and our spirit. God’s witness to our senses is baptism. This is not the fact of our regeneration, but it substantiates the fact. The right of a man to his ancestor’s property is the will or intention of the ancestor. But because that will is invisible it is necessary that it should be made manifest in a visible symbol, viz., a “Will.” So baptism is the Will of God, i.e, the instrument that declares His will. The will itself is invisible; verbally it runs, “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom”; the visible instrument equivalent to the parchment is baptism. And so baptism is regeneration only as the parchment is the will.
2. Entrance into the kingdom by a spiritual change. The ground on which our Lord states it is our twofold human nature--the nature of the animal and the nature of God. When these natures are exchanged is the moment of spiritual regeneration. Our Lord’s phrase has been interpreted
Regeneration--its subjective aspect
Our Lord’s sermon was delivered
1. Not to the multitude, as were His other discourses, but to an audience of one. But the smallness of the auditory did not affect the sublimity of what Christ said, or His earnestness. The elder Beecher was called upon to preach in a country chapel where, owing to the weather, he had but one hearer. Twenty years after Mr. Beecher met this person, then an eminently successful preacher, and the instrument of hundreds of conversions, as a result of this sermon. Preachers should never despair because of small audiences.
2. This solitary hearer lacked two very desirable qualities in an inquirer--boldness and quickness. Yet on the other hand he was teachable, and was convinced that Christ was qualified to teach.
I. THE NATURE OF REGENERATION. The figure indicates the radical character of the formative process of Christianity over the moral nature of its subject. There are other figures equally forcible: “Creation,” “renewing,” “workmanship.” Our Lord’s term had peculiar significance for a Jew, inasmuch as all His privileges were secured to Him by birth. The others are St. Paul’s terms, who wrote to Gentiles, who would be more familiar with artistic and mechanical operations. Both describe the same process, but represent two distinct truths respecting it. Creation has a wider meaning than birth. Every new existence is a creation, but that of Adam, e.g., was immediate--but the production of a new man in Christ Jesus is mediate, viz., by birth.
II. ITS SPHERE “from above.” The source of the new principle is outside the earthly. Natural birth ushers into a conscious life only on an earthly plane; but spiritual birth ushers into a conscious life on a heavenly plane. Its starting point is from above, and it maintains its spiritual elevation along its whole course.
III. ITS METHOD.
1. By the breathing of the Spirit. The same method is adopted to quicken the new man as was employed to quicken the old. “God breathed into his nostrils,” etc., etc.
2. The breathing of the Spirit assumes the form of a voice. In Adam’s case God breathed into his nostrils; in our case the Spirit breaths into the ear. “Of His own will begat He us,” etc.
3. This exercise is
IV. ITS ESSENTIALNESS. The new birth is essential to seeing and to entering the kingdom. “Seeing” is that power of deep spiritual insight into spiritual things, the absence of which our Lord deplored (Matthew 13:13-17), and which Paul declares to be necessary to understand the deep things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14-16). To see the kingdom of God means to obtain a sympathetic apprehension of its nature and aim. To enter means actual participation in its blessedness. This entering, however, is conducive to the seeing. A building viewed externally is seen, but in a very incomplete sense. We must inhabit it to realize its use, comfort, and protection. (A. J. Parry.)
The nature and process of regeneration
Yonder is a cracked bell. How again to restore it? By one of two methods. The first is to repair the bell, to encompass it with hoops, to surround it with bands. Nevertheless you can easily discern the crack of the bell in the crack of the sound. The only effectual way is to remelt the bell, recast it, and make it all new; then it will ring clear, round, sonorous as ever. And human nature is a bell suspended high up in the steeple of the creation to ring forth the praises of the Almighty Creator. But in the Fall in Eden the bell cracked. How again to restore it? By one of two ways. One is to surround it with outward laws and regulations as with steel hoops. This is the method adopted by philosophy as embodied in practical statesmanship; and without doubt there is a marked improvement in the sound. Nevertheless the crack in the metal shows itself in the crack in the tone. The best way is to remelt it, recast it, remould it; and this is God’s method in the gospel. He remelts our being, refashions us, creates us afresh from root to branch, makes us new creatures in Christ Jesus, zealous unto good works; and by and by we will sound forth His praises in a nobler, sweeter strain than ever we did before. Heaven’s high arches will be made to echo our anthems of praise. (J. C. Jones, D. D.)
The need of regeneration
A raw countryman having brought his gun to the gunsmith for repairs, the latter is reported to have examined it, and finding it to be almost too far gone for repairing, said, “Your gun is in a very worn-out, ruinous, good-fornothing condition, what sort of repairing do you want for it?” “Well,” said the countryman, “I don’t see as I can do with anything short of a new stock, lock, and barrel; that ought to set it up again.” “Why,” said the smith, “you had better have a new gun altogether.” “Ah!” was the reply, “I never thought of that; and it strikes me that’s just what I do want. A new stock, lock, and barrel; why that’s about equal to a new gun altogether, and that’s what I’ll have.” Just the sort of repairing that man’s nature requires. The old nature cast aside as a complete wreck and good for nothing, and a new one imparted. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The new birth
I. Man in a state of nature, or MAN BEFORE REGENERATION. Christ nowhere inculcates the doctrine of the fall, but everywhere assumes it. His doctrine of regeneration presupposes it, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh.”
1. This depravity is therefore innate--“born.” In Psalms 51:1-19. David says, “In sin did my mother conceive me.” No wonder therefore that he should pray, “Wash me throughly.” Two words are used for “wash.”
2. The turpitude is hereditary. This is a verity of science as well as of theology. Once degeneration enters a species, the process goes on from bad to worse unless a remedial check be applied. Adam begat a son in his own likeness. Like begets like. My personal sin grows out of an undercurrent of evil in the race.
4. Total. Not that every man is as bad as he can be, but that every faculty is more or less tainted, that the bias of the soul, the whole trend of our being is in the direction of evil.
II. Man changed from a state of nature into a state of grace, or MAN BEING REGENERATED.
1. Godliness begins in life. It is not a thing of profession or acquisition, but of birth; not a trade, but a nature.
2. This life is new; not a continuation of the old, but a new creation. Human nature is too dilapidated to be repaired.
3. This life is heavenly: in origin, nature, and direction. Heavenly
4. It is specifically a Divine life. Thus
Consequently regeneration is a supernatural process; not a miraculous, for Christianity ceased to be miraculous in the first century. The miraculous is only accidental to it, but the supernatural belongs to its essence.
III. Man in a state of grace, or MAN AFTER REGENERATION. Once a man is born again
1. He is able to understand the gospel in its spiritual significance and relations. He “sees” the kingdom. The natural man may receive the thoughts of the Spirit of God, but not the realities represented by the thoughts
2. He “enters” the kingdom, becomes a denizen of it, a naturalized subject enjoying its privileges and sharing its responsibilities. His “citizenship is in heaven.”
3. Having entered the kingdom its duties and privileges afford keen enjoyment to the new man. He “sees,” relishes the kingdom, tastes the heavenly gifts, and that the Lord is gracious. (J. Cynddylan Jones, D. D.)
The new birth
I. ITS NATURE.
1. What it is not.
(1) Not the outward administration of baptism. Some we see piously disposed from their earliest years who might have had a holy bias imparted, but the great generality are void of gracious dispositions, and cannot have been born again.
2. What it is.
So a man’s new birth is evident
(a) To the regenerate who find a congeniality of taste and feeling with them.
(b) To the unregenerate, who marvel at the change.
II. ITS NECESSITY.
1. From the character of Him who declares it: Christ
2. From its indispensableness to happiness.
III. ITS SIGNS. He that is born of God
1. Overcometh the world.
2. Doth not commit sin.
3. Brings forth the fruits of the Spirit--love, joy, peace, etc. Application. If the new birth be
1. A supernatural change, do not fancy you can renew yourself, but cry, “Create in me a clean heart,” etc.
2. An internal change; do not think that the amendment will suffice, but pray that the axe may be laid at the root of the corrupt tree.
3. An universal change; no idol must be retained.
4. A sensible change; see that your acquaintance with truth is experimental, not theoretical.
5. A visible change; let your light shine. (W. Mudge, B. A.)
The new birth
What a meeting was this between Christ and Nicodemus!
1. The season was most solemn.
2. The theme the most momentous.
3. The hearer a ruler in Israel.
4. The Speaker the great Teacher sent from God.
I. THE NATURE OF THE NEW BIRTH. Altogether spiritual. Regeneration by water baptism is a dangerous fallacy.
1. The agent in this work is a Spirit-the Spirit of God. Some secondary agency is usually employed, the Word of God, etc., but that is only His instrument.
2. The subject is spirit--the soul of man. Regeneration is in its very nature a complete reorganization of the moral man.
3. The immediate associations are spiritual. The signs may be evident, but the causes are unseen. Therefore the unregenerate cannot understand either spiritual mourning or spiritual joy, because there is nothing that they can see to occasion either.
II. ITS RESULTS.
1. It introduces a man into a new world. It seems as though he saw with new eyes, heard with new ears, enjoyed with new senses.
2. It introduces him into a new society where he forms more dignified companionships. Some imagine that to become a Christian is to lose caste. On the contrary it is to be elevated in the rank of being and to have God and the purest and best for friends.
3. It produces a new class of feelings, motives, and desires. Joy where once was sorrow; love of God where once was love of self; aspirations after heaven where once was worldly ambition.
4. It opens new sources of pleasure.
III. ITS NECESSITY.
1. From the moral condition of man which is depraved.
2. From the character of heaven, into which the undefiled cannot enter.
3. From the mediatorship of Jesus Christ, who came to bring about the great change. (J. S. Jones.)
The new birth
If any doctrines are fundamental they are those of justification and regeneration. The former is what God does for us in forgiving our sins, the latter what He does in us in renewing our fallen nature. They are concurrent, but in the order of thought we first conceive His wrath to be turned away and then His Spirit to enter our heart.
I. WHY MUST WE BE BORN AGAIN?
1. The foundation of this doctrine lies nearly as deep as the foundation of the world. God created man in His image.
2. But man was not made immutable, but placed in a state of trial, able to stand, liable to fall. God apprized him of the penalty of falling--death. Man fell and died--died to God. The body dies when separated from the soul; the soul when separated from God.
3. In Adam all died; so every one that is descended from him comes into the world spiritually dead. Hence the necessity of regeneration.
II. HOW MUST A MAN BE BORN AGAIN?
1. We are not to expect any minute, philosophical account of the manner (John 3:8).
2. The phrase was well known to Nicodemus as signifying the transformation of a Gentile proselyte into a son of Abraham.
3. Before a child is born into the world he has eyes, but sees not; senses which are not exercised; has no knowledge. To that manner of existence we do not give the name of life. Only when a man is born do we say he lives. Then his organs of sense are exercised on proper objects. The parallel holds good. Man’s spiritual senses by nature are locked up. He has no knowledge of or intercourse with God. Only when born by the Spirit of God does he spiritually live. Then his spiritual senses find exercise. He knows God and enjoys Him.
4. From hence appears the nature of the new birth. It is the great change which God works in the soul when He brings it to life; when He raises it from the death of sin to the life of righteousness.
III. TO WHAT END IS IT NECESSARY TO BE BORN AGAIN?
1. In order to holiness, which is
2. Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.
3. Without holiness no happiness.
1. That baptism is not the new birth, but only the sign of it.
2. That it does not always accompany baptism.
3. That it is not sanctification, which is progressive, whereas regeneration, like generation, is instantaneous.
4. That it is a greater charity to tell a man he needs to be born again than to suppress it. (John Wesley.)
The new birth of water and the Spirit
As out of the dry wheat one mass or one loaf cannot be made without moisture, so neither could we be made one in Christ Jesus without the water of the Spirit which is from heaven. And as dry earth, except it receive moisture, bears no fruit, so we also, being in the first place a dry tree, could never have become fruitful of life without being watered by the Spirit from above. (T. H. Leary, D. C. L.)
Thorwaldsen, who is said to have been born in Copenhagen, when questioned as to his birthplace, replied, “I don’t know; but I arrived in Rome, March 8, 1797;” dating his birth, as it were, from the commencement of his artistic career. Shortly after Summerfield arrived in America he met with a distinguished doctor of divinity who asked him where he was born. “In Dublin and in Liverpool.” “Oh I how can that be?” The boy-preacher paused a moment, and answered, “Art thou a master in Israel, and knowest not these things?” (S. H. Tyng, D. D.)
Born a Christian
A person came in the inquiry-room, and I (D.L. Moody) said, “Are you a Christian?” “Why,” says she, “of course I am.” “Well,” I said, “how long have you been one? Oh, sir, I was born one!” “Oh! indeed, then I am very glad to take you by the hand; I congratulate you; you are the first woman I ever met who was born a Christian; you are more fortunate than others, they are born children of Adam.” She hesitated a little, and then tried to make out that, because she was born in England, she was a Christian.
Earthly minds love only earthly things
Alphonse Karr heard a gardener ask his master permission to sleep for the future in the stable; “for,” said he, “ there is no possibility of sleeping in the chamber behind the greenhouse, sir; there are nightingales there which do nothing but guggle, and keep up a noise all the night.” The sweetest sounds are but an annoyance to those who have no musical ear; doubtless the music of heaven would have no charms to carnal minds, certainly the joyful sound of the gospel is unappreciated so long as men’s ears remain uncircumcised. (Feathers for Arrows.)
Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again
Every man’s necessity
When men are perishing it would be cruel to interest their minds or amuse their fancies.
We must give earnest heed to their necessities. Is it famine that slays them? We must give them food. Is it disease? Let us give the medicine. Now the spiritual needs of men are urgent, and the most pressing is their regeneration: they must be born again or lost. The change wrought in regeneration is
I. Most THOROUGH.
1. It is more than reformation.
2. More than change of opinion even on the best topics. Notions may be altered again and again and yet a man be no nearer sonship with God.
3. More than priests can convey or ordinances effect.
4. It is a new creature created in us. At every birth a life comes into the world which was not there before,
5. A new experience. To the new-born child everything is new--pain and pleasure.
6. A new world. When a young girl found the Saviour, she said, “Either I am altogether changed or else the world is.” In fact both are.
7. A new force. At every birth a new worker comes into the world. He is feeble at first, but those tiny hands and feet soon become dexterous. And so when a soul is born a power is put forth from it of which it was unconscious before.
II. Most WONDERFUL.
1. As to the manner of it.
2. As to the supernaturalness of its operation. No doubt moral suasion, influence of association, education, do much, and much may be developed in mankind that is admirable. But this is not what Christ meant. The Holy Spirit must come to work upon us as God came forth to work on this world at creation.
3. As to the grandeur of the relationship to which it introduces us. To God as children, to Christ as brethren. What privileges spring out of this relationship? Paupers have mounted from the dunghill to the throne, but a stride from nothingness to greatness is trifling compared with rising from being a slave of Satan to become a son of God.
III. MOST MANIFEST. The house knows when a child is born. The birth may be mysterious, but the fact is apparent. So we know not how the Spirit works, but the change which comes over the subject shows that He has operated. Elstow knew when Bunyan had found the Saviour. Every soul that is born again
1. Repents of his sin.
2. Has faith.
4. Develops the spiritual power that has been imparted.
IV. MOST IMPERATIVE. You may be rich or poor, wise or ignorant-many things are desirable, one thing is needful “Ye must be born again.” If you are not
1. You have no spiritual life, and without that you are dead in trespasses and sins.
2. No spiritual capacity, and so no power to receive the blessing. When the gracious rain comes they are not like Gideon’s fleece, ready to drink it in, but like a hard stone, neither saturated nor softened. No spiritual inheritance. None can come in for the eterna1 portion but such as are born in the house.
V. EMINENTLY PERSONAL. The idea of proxy is quite foreign. No other can be born for a man: so the great change must be individually experienced. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
(See Revelation 22:17 in connection with the text).
The necessity and possibility of the new birth
I. MUST be born again, and MAY be born again, are truths which should never be separated.
II. MUST without MAY leads to despair.
III. MAY without MUST leads to presumption.
IV. We MUST, therefore we CAN be born again through the grace vouchsafed from heaven. (Homiletic Monthly.)
No entrance to heaven without regeneration
Like the rocks which sometimes guard the entrance to a safe and spacious harbour, these words stand. A ship must enter here, or turn back to the wide ocean with no haven or home. “Ye must be born again.” Of course this does not apply to a man unless he is going in. If any one is quite contented to stay without; if he is well pleased to sail up and down amid storm and calm, thinking that the end of his voyage is well enough attained without making for a port; rounding the world for ever, or at least until a grave shall open by land or sea, and end his travel in the waves or in the dust; if any man deliberately takes that view of his own life, then this law does not touch him. But if he desires to “see the kingdom of God,” and enter in, he “must be born again.” That law will not bend, it will not break, it will not stand out of the way. It is inexorable. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
Conversion is a great change
I passed by a piece of common which some lord of the manor or other had been enclosing, as those rascals always will if they can, to rob the poor of their rights, and filch every morsel of green grass upon which we may freely plant our feet; but I noticed that the enclosers,had only railed it round, but had not dug it up, nor ploughed it, nor planted it; and though they had cut down the gorse, it was coming up again; of course it would, for it was common still, and a bit of fence or rail could not alter it; the furze would come peeping up, and ere long the enclosure would be as wild as the heath outside. But this is not God’s way of working. When God encloseth a heart that has laid common with sin, does He cut down the thorns and the briars and then plant fir trees? (Isaiah 55:13). No, no; but He so changeth the soil, that from the ground itself, from its own vitality, there spontaneously starts up the fir tree and the myrtle. This is a most wonderful result. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Morality is good, but insufficient
“Is not morality good aa far as it goes?” say you. “Yes, certainly, as far as it goes.” “Isn’t my cable as good as yours, as far as it goes?” says the sailor who has a short cable to him who has one very long. “Yes,” says the other, “as far as it goes; but what of that, when it won’t go within fifty fathoms of bottom?” And of what use, oh moralist, is your cable, when it will not go within fifty fathoms of the place where it can take hold upon the soul’s anchorage? (H. W.Beecher.)
You may put what you please on a wild colt, a fractious horse from the desert, and it will make no difference with his nature. Put a gold harness on him--a silver harness--a velvet harness. Does one subdue his spirit more than another? I tell you, the horse is mightier than the harness that you put on him. Cover it with ornaments, make it brilliant with rosettes, put on what you please--but there is the horse with his unsubdued nature. And human nature is a wild ass’s colt. Now, the mere harness of the Church, its external framework, and its outward procedure, are good enough if the men that are under them are good, and they are bad if the men that are under them are bad. It is not anything outside of men, it is the Spirit of God in them--that is the only hope for any Church, sect, or community. (H. W. Beecher.)
Conversion a necessity
I’ve seen luxuriant grasses growing on the tops of graves; I’ve seen flowers springing from the crevices of tombs; and like these are the fair and lovely moralities, and the social virtues which adorn the character of him who is not born of God’s Spirit. The corpse, with its corruptions, its wasting flesh, and its decaying bones, is beneath the fragrant flowers. (H. W. Beecher.)
Conversion a necessity
As it would be impossible for the insect in its chrysalis state to observe the laws which are made for the transformed state--for the worm to know the laws which make the summer fly seek the sunshine and live upon the flower--as it must be “born again,” and enter upon a new existence before it can keep the laws of that new existence; so only the new creature can keep a new commandment--love. (C. Stanford.)
Why conversion is necessary
As a dead man cannot inherit an estate, no more can a dead soul (and every soul is spiritually dead until quickened and born again of the Holy Ghost) inherit the kingdom of God. Yet sanctification and holiness of life do not constitute any part of our title to the heavenly inheritance, any more than mere animal life entitles a man of fortune to the estate he enjoys. He could not, indeed, enjoy his estate if he did not live; but his claim to his estate arises from some other quarter. In like manner, it is not our holiness that entitles us to heaven; though no man can enter into heaven without holiness. The new birth a necessity:--Suppose a Red Indian should come to this country and should endeavour to obtain the privileges of citizenship, well knowing that a man must be a born subject or he cannot enjoy them. Suppose he says, “I will change my name, I will take up the name of an Englishman--I have been called the Son of the Great West Wind--but I will take an English name, I will be called a Christian man, an English subject.” Will that admit him? (C. H.Spurgeon.)
The wind bloweth where it listeth
The Spirit of God
Nicodemus was a member of the Jewish Church, and had participated in its rites. He had probably been a listener to John and possibly had been baptized by him. He came to Christ in the spirit of a man who should say, “What lack I yet?” In reply Christ puts no stress on baptism, because this was the ground on which Nicodemus stood, viz., that he was initiated and had observed the required ordinances of religion. So He said in effect, “Except a man baptized with water be likewise baptized with the Spirit,” etc. The truth of the Divine influence enforced by Christ
I. IS NOT UNSCIENTIFIC. Among modern discoveries nothing is more striking than the fact that there is a spiritual as well as a physical unity.
Nothing is better attested than that upon the minds of men there are influences which spring from invisible sources. Nor is there anything which men more need, or aught so much to desire to be true and accept so willingly as this doctrine that there is a Divine power which wakes up the better part of man’s nature. Then, again, we are conscious of its inspiring yearnings and longings which we know not how to locate or proportion.
II. IS UNIVERSAL. The fact that the universal tendency of the human mind has been away from the physical and toward the spiritual has to be accounted for. It is not to suffer doubt because fantastic notions have prevailed respecting it. Men sought chemistry through alchemy and astronomy through astrology. But the fact is that as far back as we have records there has been the conception of a free spirit. Where did it come from?
III. DOES NOT SUPERSEDE THE NATURAL FACULTIES. It is not an attempt of the Divine mind to put its action in the place of our action; but lifts our mind into a sphere of activity it has not known before, so changing its feelings and experiences that it is called a new birth. Society ministers to our social wants--but only the Spirit can lift our spirits toward the great realm of truth in which it is to develop and live. The physical globe makes provision for the body, but to rise to the invisible and infinite, we need the Spirit who gives vitality and force to all those elements which go with the moral sentiment.
IV. REQUIRES PREPARATION AND CO-OPERATION. Man may prepare himself for friendship and society according to the nature of the relations into which he is going. So may a man prepare his soul to be acted on by the Divine Spirit. There would be summer if there were no farmer; but the farmer knows how to make summer work to advantage for him as otherwise it would not have done. So there would be the universal influence of the Spirit of God if every human being were swept from the earth; but by meeting the Divine Spirit, by opening the soul to and cooperating with Him, men have made themselves the recipients of blessings they would not otherwise have known.
V. MAY BE RESISTED as well as co-operated with. It is not irresistible; where men set their wills against it, put themselves under antagonistic feelings, resist the tendencies it would have developed, they certainly can set it aside. The strivings of God’s Spirit have proved futile in thousands of instances. How many have yearnings for something better, and sweep them away by social jollity!
VI. IS INSCRUTABLE. Every man is more or less the subject of it, but may not recognize it, and cannot analyse it. If you ask the flower, “How can you tell that which the sun does in you?” the flower cannot tell. The sun wakes it up, that is all.
VII. IS THE GREATEST BOON, AND ITS LOSS THE GREATEST MISFORTUNE.
VIII. WORKS CHIEFLY THROUGH GOD’S WORD. (H. W. Beecher.)
The freedom of the Spirit
This wind blows where it lists, as it lists, when it lists, as much as it lists, in what manner it lists, and on whom it lists. This Spirit is a gift, and gifts are free (1 Corinthians 12:1-11). (Wm. Austin.)
If the Spirit bloweth where it listeth, we are not certainly to exclude any place or nation from these blessed gales, or to the Church or congregation we are of; as if He could blow nowhere else. Learn charity.
1. If the Spirit bloweth how He listeth, we do but show our folly to prescribe to Him His way. He knows what best He has to do, how best to manage us to salvation. Learn discretion.
2. If it be as much too only as He lists, it is not sure our merit or desert, if we have more of Him than others, nor perhaps their demerit always, who have less. Whatever it is, it is more than we deserve, both they and we. Learn humility.
3. If it be only upon whom He pleases, it is certainly sometimes upon some we know not. So we have no reason to pass a censure upon any man’s soul. Learn to think well of all And so much the rather, in that
4. He bloweth when He will. If He has not already, He may hereafter breathe upon him or her thou doubtest most. If thou, perhaps thyself, feelest Him not within thee now, thou mayest ere long. Learn hence to despair, neither of thyself nor any one else (Psalms 139:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:5; Romans 11:33; Rom_9:18). (Dr. Mark Frank.)
The mysteriousness, reality, and variableness of the Spirit’s working
While Christ spoke, I imagine the spring night breeze, it might be the first air of dawn, came sighing up the Kedron glen below the city. It sighed among the young fig leaves; it made the olive branches toss and moan; it shook the casement, and the lamp-light flickered. Whence comes it? In what far-off land of the East did it first awake to run before the sunrise? Where will it die away in the West, over the hills, beyond the sea? Whence, oh viewless winds, and whither? Christ lets the emblem speak: what does it say? Like an atmosphere the Spirit of Divine life is everywhere. He envelopes the globes. He touches every man. He penetrates us. Why should not that living Spirit beget us, creating a Divine life within these ribs of carnal death? The manner of His working may be as untraceable as the path of free winds that blow about the mountain tops, and chase each other over the plain; but what of that? His results may be as unmistakable as theirs. The movements of a spiritual power among men, again, vary as the airs of heaven do. Alone in her closet, e.g., a girl is bending over her open Bible; and as she reads, her young face grows solemn, the full eyes gather, till the page is blurred with tears that are not wholly sad; and on her knees she weeps out her godly sorrow for little daily faults which the world would count trifles, till with sweet thankfulness in her purified spirit and all the peace of heaven within her bosom, she rises to go forth to her lowly day of toil and uncomplaining service. This is not the way of the flesh. It was the breath of God that stole into her heart, just as outside the summer air was stirring among the leaves of the garden. But also I have seen a strong man, hardened through thirty years of open reckless sin, kneel in another inner room by night crushed by the agony of an awakened conscience, and gasping forth unwonted confessions in a voice hoarse with suppressed emotion. This, too, is not the way of the flesh. There I saw the same breath of God, but strong this time, and loud as when on wintry Appenines the great north blast makes the pine trees writhe and creak before it tears them from the rock clefts. Such things are, and they show that there is a Holy Ghost. (J. Oswald Dykes, D. D.)
Diversity of the Spirit’s operation
God hath divers ways into divers men. Into some He comes at noon, in the sunshine of prosperity; to some in the dark and heavy clouds of adversity. Some He affects with the music of the Church; some, with some particular collect or prayer; some, with some passage in a sermon, which takes no hold of him that stands next to him. Watch the way of the Spirit of God into thee; that way, which He makes His path, in which Be comes oftenest to thee, and by which thou findest thyself most affected and best disposed towards Him; and pervert not that path, foul not that way. “Make straight His paths;” that is, keep them straight; and when thou observest which is His path in thee (by what means especially He works upon thee), meet Him in that path; embrace Him in those means, and always bring a facile, a fusile, a ductile, a tractable soul to the offers of His grace in His way (Hebrews 1:1; Psalms 85:8). (Dr. Donne.)
Spiritual movement an effect of the Spirit’s working
Just as when we see the leaves of a wood moved to and fro, we know the wind is there; so when we see a man moved out of the careless routine of a natural life and leading a new life, we may say the Spirit of God, the Spirit of life, is there. (G. J. Brown, M. A.)
Spiritual life a Divine inspiration
Here we have that aspect of regeneration which is so incomprehensible to the world. Men can understand reformation through fear of perdition and hope of immortality; but the great revolution of a new life inspired by God appears mystical and impossible. We speak of the age of inspiration being over. That of inspired writing is, but that of inspired living is not.
I. SPIRITUAL LIFE IS A DIRECT INSPIRATION FROM GOD.
1. That life is impossible without this inspiration. Spiritual life is an elevation above the natural will, inclination, tendency. Men have tried to reach this without the Spirit, by asceticism, but after all they have been still in the sphere of self. All they have done has been merely a self.culture which does not rise above the natural life. Try to change a man’s character. Take a man worldly and selfish, and try to convince him by reasoning that his course is a wrong one. Perhaps he admits it: your logic has carried the outworks of intellect, but left the deeper nature untouched. Point out his degradation. He may admit that too, and hate you. Appeal to his interest with warnings of hell and promises of heaven. Suppose you have convinced him you have not elevated him--he is selfish still. Try another illustration. Men feel that they can do no great and noble deeds until raised above the natural level of life by a possessing Spirit. This is the great feature of all genius, poetic, artistic, political. So is Christian life. God’s Spirit must enter us, or our endeavours will never raise us. We have instances of this in all ages, e.g., Jacob, Paul.
2. This inspiration enters man in mystery.
II. THE RESULTS OF REALIZING THIS TRUST. It would work a mighty change.
1. In our faith.
2. In our prayers.
3. In the ease and joy it gives to the discharge of duty.
4. In the strength it imparts to manhood. (E. L. Hull, B. A.)
Nature, evidences, and necessity of regeneration
I. INQUIRE WHAT IT IS TO BE BORN AGAIN.
1. It is a Divine and supernatural change, effected by the agency of the Holy Spirit.
2. It is an instantaneous change; and herein it differs from sanctification, which is a progressive work.
3. It is an internal and invisible change, yet may be known by its effects.
4. The change is universal, extending to the heart and life. Universal beauty spread over the whole man.
5. It is an abiding change.
II. NOTICE SOME OF THE EVIDENCES OF THE NEW BIRTH. These we shall chiefly select from the First Epistle of John.
1. Those who are born of God “do not commit sin; yea, they cannot sin, because they are born of God” (John 3:9; Joh_5:18). The principle of grace will be always rising up against sin, and at length will triumph over it Romans 7:14-25).
2. They have “overcome the world”--its frowns and smiles, hopes and 1 John 5:4).
3. They have a sincere love to all the saints; for “every one that loveth is born of God” (1 John 4:7).
4. All their hope of salvation is founded on the meditation of Christ (1 John 5:1).
5. Their walk and conversation is holy and exemplary. “Every one that doeth righteousness is born of God” (1 John 2:29).
III. CONSIDER THE REASONABLENESS AND IMPORTANCE OF THIS CHANGE: “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.”
1. Do not marvel at it as if the doctrine were new and strange.
2. Marvel not as if the doctrine were unintelligible.
3. Do not consider this new birth to be impossible. With men, and with angels it may be so; but not with God.
4. Marvel not at this change as if it were unnecessary. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
The new birth
Christ taught Nicodemus that this new birth is not “a developing of some latent power;” it is not “bringing out the constitutional tendency,” and guiding it. It is a new nature, a new level, a new plane, a new sphere, into which human nature is to be exalted by the power of God. It is a birth, with all which that implies. Just consider for a moment, in the light of this principle which Christ laid down, the much debated question of morality. A man says, “Are we to understand that a man is to substitute this,” if I may so say, “second nature,” which is born in him, or rather out of which he is born by the operation of the Holy Ghost, for morality? I answer that the point is here: That which is born of the flesh is flesh; a man is amiable from good digestion; a kind and generous friend from an active circulation and because he is successful in life. He is a temperate man because wine is distasteful to him; he is a chaste man because he has a phlegmatic, a cold nature. These things are matters of temperament, good, excellent, much to be desired. But often they are granted to people like their complexions and the shape of their hands and feet, while to others they are vouchsafed by the grace of God after the labour of the new birth. These moralities in either case bear the same relation to the after life which the lower leaves of a plant bear to its blossoming. “What is my morality worth, then?” you ask. The Indian in his wigwam knows a great many things, but he is not a civilized man. Suppose he should put this question, “What is all I do know worth, if this is not civilization? If I am brought out of this state, am I to leave all these things and count them as nothing?” Certainly he is not. Relatively to his condition, they are unspeakably important, but as compared with a higher development, they are of very little value. That is to say, if he should become noble and refined in civilized life, he would look back with pity upon the condition that he was in when wigwam and wampum were home and means. Not because they were in, and of themselves, bad, but because he was so far from having attained by growth and development that which was possible to him. When we began to learn to write, our letters were crooked enough, our sentences all went up-hill--the writing was a hideous scrawl. But would we say to our children, “It is good for nothing, your cramped and crude beginnings?” Not at all. They are good to commence with--and good to end with so soon as you can go on to perfection, making the lines of beauty and a fair page. Moralities are the embryo children--the ground leaves--the cramped writing--the wigwam and the wampum; but they must not be confounded with the higher developments of the new manhood which has its birth out of the water and the Spirit. When, therefore, our Lord says, that morality is not sufficient--and that is what He says, substantially, to Nicodemus--He is the truest friend of man; and among men, he is the most generous and kind who maintains that ideal and shows his fellowmen, not that the things which belong to the body are worthless, but that true manhood is far higher than the body can reach, and far higher than ordinary reason can attain--so high that it can only be groped after, like the newly-born infant stretches out its untried hands toward the first glimmering of the shaded light--only reached by the power of God developing the nascent nature of the new-born soul--a mystery no more profound than that which surrounds the entrance into the natural life which every one must concede. It is not that we have developed very much. It is not that we have a point of development established in us that determines our safety. It is that the Spirit of God has gained a lodgment in the soul; that the leaven is there; that the root is thrown down, and the germ is pointed up, that gives us ground for hope. That being secured, there is an infinite space, called “Eternity” for men to develop in. God has promised to give His Holy Spirit to them that simply ask for it. He has chosen, and that is enough for us; He has chosen to couple the gift with the baptism of water in the Triune name. The seed is sown then. How? I do not know, for God is silent there. (F. L. Norton, D. D.)
The difficulties connected with the regenerating operation of the Spirit of God are
I. ITS SUPERNATURALNESS. There is a certain shrinking from the supernatural, which renders such doctrines as this peculiarly distasteful.
1. If, for the ignorant and superstitious, the invisible world possess a strange attraction, there is an opposite class of minds in which the tendency is equally strong to explain everything by natural causes. It is the tendency of the religion of an unenlightened age to translate every unexplained fact or phenomenon into the immediate interposition of the Deity. But as society advances in knowledge, and as many of those events, formerly attributed to supernatural agency, are discovered to be the result of natural causes, it too often happens that, with the superstitious recognition, all practical acknowledgment of the Divine presence and agency is lost. The voice of God is no longer heard in the thunder when the laws of electricity begin to be known. The old gods of heathenism have long vanished from the woods and meadows and fountains; but it is not that the one living and true God, but only gravitation, light, heat, magnetism, may be recognized as reigning in their forsaken haunts.
2. And we carry the same tendency into the moral world. To the power of motives, the influence of education, etc., we are apt to trace changes of character, h child grows up gentle, amiable, pious; and when we say that he had the benefit of a careful and religious education, we seem to ourselves to have given the whole account of the matter. An irreligious man becomes devout, and the severe affliction, or the influence of a Christian friend, has made him a wiser and a better man. Seldom does the mind naturally turn to the thought--“the finger of God is here.” The idea of a mysterious Holy Spirit working in the man’s mind is too often regarded as a strange mystical notion, having nothing in common with the plain realities of everyday life.
3. It is to this habit of mind that the text suggests a most striking corrective. For it brings before us the consideration that the supernatural is not confined to religion; it bids us see in the most familiar processes of nature the proofs of a Divine agency as inexplicable as any to which religion appeals. Science, with all its triumphs, is compelled to admit the immediate presence of a supernatural power in the most ordinary movements of nature. Gravitation, light, heat, chemical affinity, are only abstractions; they are nothing without a living agent, whose mode of working they express. Dead matter, however arranged, can never act of itself. A human machinist may leave his machine to work alone, because when he leaves it God’s laws take it up, and by their aid the materials retain their characteristics, the vapour keeps its expansive power. But when God has constructed His machine of the universe, He cannot so leave it; for, if He retire, there is no second God to take care of it. The signs of an all pervading supernatural energy meets us wherever we turn. If every echoing wind bespeak a-present Deity, shall it seem strange to appeal to His power in the regeneration of a soul? Each time the sail of the vessel expands the breeze, we call in the aid of a mysterious agency, without which human efforts were vain. Can it be a matter of surprise that the same mysterious agency must be invoked to communicate to the dull and moveless spirit an impulse towards a nobler than earthly destiny?
II. ITS SOVEREIGNTY.
1. How very much, to the human eye, have the relations of God with man, as a religious being, been characterized by an aspect of strange uncertainty! Religion has not been communicated indiscriminately. While a few favoured regions have felt its reviving presence, others, unvisited by its quickening power, remain from age to age moral wastes. Nor can human research discover any law by which this inequality is ordered. And as little in the case of individuals as of nations can we explain on what principle it is that the gracious influences of the Spirit are vouchsafed. In equal possession of the outward means of improvement some are benefited whilst others continue unaffected. A word, a mere look, will fly straight to the core of some human spirit; whilst, on others, all the strength of reason and the power of eloquence may be spent, only to recoil ineffective as arrows from proof-mail. From the furnace of affliction one heart will come forth softened, whilst others cool down into hardness and insensibility. Is the hand of Jehovah ever shortened that it cannot save? Or can we ascribe to Infinite Love the wayward fitfulness of earthly beneficence--to Infinite Wisdom the unreasoning favouritism of erring men? If grace be necessary to conversion, why--are we not tempted to ask--is not the Spirit of God poured forth without measure wherever unconverted souls are to be found? To all such questions we must reply in the words of the text.
2. The force of this illustration it will need little reflection to perceive.
III. ITS SECRECY.
1. Momentous though the change be in regeneration, it is one of which we have no immediate evidence. We are accustomed to associate great events in man’s history with outward stir and show, and we can scarcely divest ourselves of the notion that external significance is inseparable from real importance. When the heir to earthly wealth or grandeur is born, the earliest cry is the signal for loud and universal gratulation. How strange to be told that an event, infinitely more momentous than these in man’s history, that a Child of the living God--the heir of an inheritance, before which earthly splendours pale--has been born, and yet the event been unnoticed and unknown!
2. But let us turn to the simple argument of the text; for here we are taught that the association on which all such incredulity is based is an altogether fallacious one. For the proof that visibility and greatness are far from inseparable we are pointed to one out of many similar phenomena which daily meet our observation. In nature greatest powers are invisible. When the magnet draws the iron, who sees the strange influence by which the attraction is effected? What keenest optics can see gravitation? So, too, the wind, visible in its manifold influences, it is in its essence and operation imperceptible. So it is with every one that is born of the Spirit. You cannot see this mysterious agent any more than those natural agents. But, as in the one case, so in the other, though the agent is invisible, the effects of his operation are manifest. You do not see the gale from heaven, wafted over any sinner’s soul, but ever and anon, if you watch carefully the moral history of your fellow-men, you may perceive the visible witness of a hidden and invisible work. Conclusion: This is a doctrine fraught with many obvious practical lessons.
1. If the agency of the Spirit be supernatural, how urgent the necessity for securing the Spirit’s intervention! What an arrest would be laid upon many of the works of man if that natural agent were suspended! If the wind of heaven ceased to blow, conceive how abortive, in many cases, would be all human industry and skill. But equally fatal, in the spiritual world, to the success of all human endeavours, would be the withholding of the supernatural grace of the Spirit of God. Pray, then, for the Spirit. Despair of success apart from it; rest not till you have obtained it. The wind comes not at the sailor’s or the husbandman’s call; but the believer is possessed of a spell that can summon the gracious aid of the Spirit in every time of need. And if the doctrine of the text furnishes us with a motive to prayer, not less suggestive is it of encouragement to effort. For whilst our natural powers soon reach their limit, to the supernatural aid on which we are encouraged to depend there is none. Self-reformation soon proves a vain attempt; but the effort to repent and turn to God cannot fail, when the very Power that fashioned our mysterious being prompts and aids in the work of restoration.
2. If the agency of the Spirit is sovereign, too, the subject is replete with practical significance, nor does not the very uncertainty of nature’s influences act as a stimulus to the exertions of man? The fair wind that has long been waited for, and may speedily die away. And so if there is any similar variableness in the times and seasons of religious influence, how urgent the motive thus presented to Christian vigilance in waiting for every favourable opportunity, and to diligence in improving it!
3. If the Spirit’s work be secret in itself, yet manifest by its effects, it suggests the important inquiry, Can I discern in my character and life the signs of the Spirit’s presence? (J. Caird, D. D.)
The heavenly wind
I. Take the text in reference to THE HOLY SPIRIT HIMSELF. The wind is an emblem of the Holy Ghost.
1. In its freeness. The wind is the very image of freedom. No one can fetter it. Caesar may decree what he pleases, but the wind will blow in his face if he looks that way. So the Spirit is most free and absolute. He visits one nation and not another. Of two men one receives His blessing and not another. One man wins souls, another seems to miss them. And the same minister will one day speak like the voice of God, and another be but a reed shaken by the wind. Yet while absolutely free He is not arbitrary.
2. In its maul-festations--“Thou hearest,” etc. Our Lord spoke of the gentle zephyr which is heard. The hearing ear is intended to be the disceruer of the Spirit. Faith cometh by hearing.
(a) The threatening wind.
(b) The destroying wind.
(c) The invigorating wind.
(d) The sound of a going in the mulberry trees which summons us to victory.
3. In its mystery--“Thou canst not tell.” We may tell that the wind comes from a certain quarter, but we cannot tell at what point it begins or where it ends. So with the Spirit we cannot tell
(a) When we let loose the truth in the power of the Spirit we never know where it may fly. A child takes a downy seed, but who knows where it will settle? Whole continents have been covered with strange flowers simply by the Wind’s wafting foreign seeds thither. Fling the truth, then, to the winds.
(b) Nor can we tell whither it will carry us. When Carey gave his young heart to Christ, he never thought the Spirit would carry him to Serampore.
II. The text relates to THOSE WHO ARE BORN OF THE SPIRIT. The birth partakes of the nature of the parent.
1. As to freedom: where the Spirit is there is liberty from the bondage of the law, custom, sin, fear of death and dread of hell
2. As to manifestation. The regenerate are known by their sound. The secret life will speak by voice, action, influence.
3. As to mystery
The operations of the wind
I. The wind SOUNDS.
1. Sometimes it wails, and so the Spirit sets men mourning for sin.
2. Sometimes its sound is triumphant, and so the Spirit inspires in us the shout of victory over sin and death.
II. The wind is a great LEVELLER. It aims at things high. If you are down low in the street you escape its fury, but climb the height and you will scarcely stand. Even so the Spirit. He makes every high thought bow before the majesty of His might.
III. The wind PURFIES the atmosphere. In the Swiss valleys there is a heaviness which makes the inhabitants unhealthy. They take quinine and have big swellings in their necks. The air does not circulate; but if there is a great storm it is a great blessing to the people. So the Spirit cleanses out our evil and brings health to the soul.
IV. The wind is a GREAT TRIER OF THE NATURE OF THINGS. It sweeps over heaps of rubbish and scatters the dust, etc., but iron and stone remain unmoved. The Holy Ghost is similarly a testing power, both of men and doctrines.
V. The wind is HELPFUL. In Lincolnshire, where the country is flat and below the sea level, they are obliged to dry the land by means of windmills. In many parts all the corn is ground by means of the wind. The Spirit is also a mighty helper. You are inundated by a flood of iniquity which you can never bale out; or you need some power to prepare your spiritual food, and you will never find better help than that which the Spirit can give.
VI. MAN MUST CO-OPERATE WITH THE WIND, and so Christians with the Spirit.
1. In all spiritual work: as the sailor has to raise his sails.
2. In growth in grace. We are to work out what He works in.
VII. MEN ARE COMPLETELY DEPENDENT ON THE WIND. They are entirely at its mercy as to time, direction, and strength. So we are compelled to wait the pleasure of the Spirit. But just as the sailor anxiously looks up at the mast-head to see how the breeze is shifting, so should we look up to heaven and observe the movement of the Spirit of God. (J. Caird, D. D.)
The work of the Holy Spirit is a hidden work
As oftentimes, when walking in a wood near sunset, though the sun himself be hid by the height and bushiness of the trees around, yet we know that he is still above the horizon, from seeing his beams in the open glades before us, illuming a thousand leaves, the several brightnesses of which are so many evidences of his presence. Thus it is with the Holy Spirit. He works in secret; but His work is manifest in the lives of all true Christians. Lamps so heavenly must have been lit from on high. (J. C. Hare.)
Methods of conversion vary
Men’s convictions of sin differ with their characters. One man says, “In such a sermon, a lion-like conviction sprang out upon me, and seized my soul in its grasp, and had nearly torn it asunder.” And another says, “The twilight of God’s love fell upon me; but when the eclipse was over, the sun shone out again, and I was happy.”
Terror, or only sadness, anguish, grief, and love, are all alike really conviction. (H. W. Beecher.)
The preciousness of Divine influence
Watch, therefore, the gales of grace: we cannot purchase this wind for any money. This bird when flown will not easily be brought back again. (J. Trapp.)
The wind an emblem of the Spirit
The work of the Spirit is compared
I. To the BLOWING of the wind.
1. The wind blows vitally and refreshingly, causing the earth to fructify. So it is the Spirit of God who imparts vital grace and makes us bring forth Song of Solomon 4:16). When a man is drowsy a blast of wind freshens him: so doth the Spirit awaken us from our spiritual slumberings. As God used the wind to bring quails, and still does to bring in great tides of water; so by His Spirit doth He bring all blessings to us, and the tides of repenting tears. The wind from the bellows revives the fire--so does the Spirit the sparks of heavenly fire in us. How soon would the smoking flax be quenched but for this!
2. Winds dissolve the clouds and cause an irrigation of the earth; this spiritual wind causes rain also, even the tears of penitence.
3. Winds cause clearness and sereneness of the air: likewise the Spirit having dissolved our iniquities causes the beauty and sunshine of God’s favour to cheer the believer.
4. Winds refrigerate. In the heat of summer how acceptable their comfort! So the Spirit allays the heat of our temptations and afflictions, that we may with patience endure and overcome them. How could the martyrs have so triumphed in the flames but for this?
5. Winds penetrate. So the Word of the Spirit (Hebrews 4:12).
6. Winds terrify by their destructive power. So under the power of the Spirit sinners tremble.
7. Winds carry all before them: with what ease doth the spirit perform its duties when under the power of the Spirit.
II. To the LIBERTY of the wind. No creature has any power to raise or check either.
1. In regard of the outward means of the ministry, for it is in that blessed trumpet that the Spirit commonly blows. Once this wind blew in the East, and how famous were those Churches i But it is now turned into the West.
2. In regard to the efficacy of the means.
3. In regard to the measure of the efficacy, piercing deeper, purging cleaner, acts more vitally in some than in others (1 Corinthians 12:11).
4. In regard to the manner of His working. Sometimes using means, sometimes not.
5. In regard of the time of working.
III. To the SENSIBLENESS of the wind. This voice is
1. Secret, within the heart of the regenerate.
2. Open. (J. Dyke.)
The wind a symbol of the Spirit s working
I. LET US FORM SOME PRECISE IDEA OF THE WIND which is just the atmosphere in motion. The atmosphere is an envelopment of air that enwraps our globe and rises to the height of from forty to fifty miles. It gets lighter and thinner as we ascend, till it gradually disappears. The air consists chiefly of two gases in the proportion of about one-fourth of the one to three-fourths of the other. It is the element in which alone it is possible for us to live. It is just this air in motion that constitutes wind. As still water stagnates, so would still air. A benevolent Creator, therefore, has seen to it that it shall never be long still. And this motion is produced mainly by changes of temperature.
II. Let us now pass to THE REALITY ILLUSTRATED--the influences of the Divine Spirit in regeneration. These influences, like the wind, are
1. Vital--absolutely essential to spiritual life (Genesis 1:2; Gen_2:7; Psalms 104:29-30; Ezekiel 38:8-10). But will the Spirit come to me? Do you ever ask, Will the vital air come?
2. Sovereign. For aught that we can do it bloweth where it listeth. Come on us where it may, when, whence, and with what result. It is absolutely beyond our control. We may indeed turn it to account, and ought; and this very sovereignty of it is the strongest reason why we should. Equally sovereign is the Spirit: “He divideth to every man severally as He will.” Nevertheless, He is benignly here for us all. Though absolutely sovereign He is Love; and it sovereignly pleases Him to be here, striving at every heart. When sovereign love has done its best, vain will be our cries and tears.
3. Mysterious (Ecclesiastes 11:4-6). “Wind,” “Spirit,” “Birth,” all are here. These strongly set forth that so far from discouraging action, they are strongest incentives to it. For the wind is not “mysterious” in any such sense as to mean causeless or capricious. It is not independent of law. Mathematicians can go far in describing the properties of curves; but fire a rifle, twirl a half-crown, or toss a ball into the air, which are the simplest and most familiar of acts, and though every convolution exactly obeys mathematical and physical laws, yet where is the Newton or the Leibnitz that could trace these in detail, and sum up for us so complex and intervolved a computation? So the Spirit’s influences are inscrutable, in great part, from the nature of the case. They deal with the most involved and interwarped of all problems. They have to do with free agency, duty, destiny, and diversities of individual temperament and circumstances. How stumbling oftentimes to see some highly privileged one resisting to tim last the influences of the Spirit; while another, much less privileged, or a third, even openly profligate, is seen to surrender himself to the overpowering influence of gospel truth and love. But this is the time for such mysteries now that the mystery of iniquity doth work. Only the antagonistic mystery of godliness can counterwork it.
4. Discernible. With all its mystery there is no mystery about its presence. A regenerated man will not be able to veil off his character. Sound is itself a sort of wind, in its vibration on the auditory nerve: therefore genuine Christians will tell personally on others with the self-same influence in varying degrees that told on themselves.
5. Benignant (Psalms 135:7). The breeze is
6. Universal--“where it listeth;” yes, but then it listeth to blow everywhere; not in short detached breaths, but in broad, boundless, interblending currents that benignly embrace, belt, and begirdle the globe. So is it with the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 3:7; Acts 2:17; Act_7:51; Revelation 22:17). (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
How can these things be?
This question is often asked concerning revivals of religion, and in dealing with it I would show
I. THAT THERE ARE SOLID GROUNDS ON WHICH TO BUILD A HOPE OF THE DISPENSATION OF THE SPIRIT TO PRODUCE REVIVALS OF RELIGION IN OUR CHURCHES.
1. We should endeavour to obtain a correct estimate of the real condition of the primitive churches of whom we read that they received the Holy Ghost. On this subject there are two opinions.
2. The Holy Spirit chooses oftentimes to display His Divine prerogative of sovereignty as to the time, place, and modes of His operations; and He displays it in such a manner that not unfrequently He gives no account of it to us. How is it that of two men brought up under the same influences one is converted and the other not? There is an analogy between the operations of God in nature and in grace, as different countries will yield different productions, each excellent in their kind; as oaks are of slow, and parasites of rapid growth, so is the work of conversion. Read the explication of the subject in 1 Corinthians 12:1-31. So one country is visited with a dispensation of the Spirit which issues in marked and numerous conversions, while another is visited with one which issues in works in defence of the gospel, and yet another with the missionary spirit.
3. There are circumstantials often connected with revivals which are by no means essential to their general character.
4. There are facts frequently occurring amongst ourselves which prove that the Spirit has not forsaken us.
5. Inference that if the means be employed we may expect yet greater things in the way of the Spirit’s manifestations.
II. THERE ARE PREPARATORY MEASURES TO BE ADOPTED IN ORDER TO THE ATTAINMENT OF THESE HIGH AND GRACIOUS DISTINCTIONS.
1. Cultivate a solemn, deep, and abiding conviction of the necessity and importance of the Spirit’s influences to advance the cause of religion.
2. Labour to put out of the way all those impediments which tend to obstruct the descent of the Spirit. Trifling with prayer, speculating on gospel verities, hypocrisy in worship, conformity with the world, uncharitableness and all those things which “grieve the Holy Spirit of God.”
3. Acknowledge thankfully what God has already done by His Spirit.
4. Consecrate more time to fervent and importunate prayer-private, family, social, etc.
5. Expect great things from God. (J. Clayton.)
John Wesley always preferred the middling and lower classes to the wealthy. He said, “If I might choose, I should still, as I have done hitherto, preach the gospel to the poor.” Preaching in Monkton Church, a large old, ruinous building, he says, “I suppose it has scarce had such a congregation during this century. Many of them were gay, genteel people, so I spoke on the first elements of the gospel, but I was still out of their depth. Oh, how hard it is to be shallow enough for a polite audience!” (Anecdotes of the Wesleys.)
Man naturally ignorant
To unconverted persons a great part of the Bible resembles a letter written in cipher. The blessed Spirit’s office is to act as God’s decipherer, by letting His people into the secret of celestial experience, as the key and clue to those sweet mysteries of grace, which were before as a garden shut up, or as a fountain sealed, or as a book written in an unknown character. (Toplady.)
Christ and the enquiry room
I. THE INQUIRER Nicodemus was
1. A sincere inquirer; his sincerity was based on a conviction of Christ’s Divine mission. He knew there could be no trickery or magic in His wonderful works. Hence his unequivocal confession.
2. An anxious inquirer.
3. A perplexed inquirer.
4. A reverential inquirer.
II. THE SUBJECTS TAUGHT IN THE INQUIRY ROOM
1. The kingdom of God. This kingdom is
2. This kingdom has conditions. Entrance to it could not be
(4) pharisaical righteousness;
III. THE METHOD ADOPTED WAS COVERSATIONAL.
IV. THE RESULTS.
1. For a time doubtful.
2. Afterwards most satisfactory. (Joseph Heaton.)
1. We live in a world of wonders: vegetable growth, insect evolution, human birth; about each of which we might well say, “How can these things be?”
2. There are greater wonders in the world towards which we are hastening--resurrection, etc.
3. Not less wonderful is the work of grace within a man’s soul.
I. WHAT THESE THINGS WERE WHICH PERPLEXED NICODEMUS. The new birth.
1. This doctrine is one of which the Bible is full. See John 1:13; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 1:20; 1 Peter 1:23, which teach that only by the almighty power of God can a dead sinner be born again, and that this power is exercised through the Word of Truth.
2. This doctrine presupposes the corruption of human nature--not that it has simply gone wrong through bad example and vicious training. It does not want mending, but renewing.
3. David found this out--“I was shapen in iniquity.” So did St. Paul--“In my flesh dwelleth no good thing,” “They that are in the flesh cannot please God.”
4. This doctrine is very humbling to pride of birth and intellect.
5. This doctrine conveys a blessed truth. Man may become a child of God, holy and meet for heaven.
6. Heaven being a character as well as a place no man can enter without being born again.
II. THESE ARE THE THINGS WE MUST KNOW IF WE ARE TO BE SAVED.
1. The very worst may be saved.
2. To be saved we must go to the author of the new birth.
3. Whatsoever may be our wants with regard to the present life nothing can stand in the place of His. Philanthropic schemes are good in their place, but are as the small dust of the balance compared with this.
4. The new birth is a personal experience, and each sinner must come individually, prayerfully, believingly and now. (Canon Miller.)
Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?
--The truths which Christ came to declare, He did but recall in great measure to minds which had lost the memory of what was from the first.
I. THE NEED OF SPIRITUAL CIRCUMCISION, CLEANSING OR RENEWAL OF THE HEART, WAS NO NEW DOCTRINE OF CHRIST (see Deuteronomy 10:16, 1 Samuel 10:9; Psalms 51:10; Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 11:19).
II. THE COMING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT AND HIS PRESENCE IN MAN’S HEART HAD BEEN FORETOLD BY THE PROPHETS (Ezekiel 36:25-27).
III. HENCE THE IGNORANCE OF THIS DISTINGUISHED TEACHER WAS INEXCUSABLE. (W. Denton, M. A.)
The doctrine of the new birth was according to Jesus exhibited in the Old Testament.
I. THE DOCTRINE OF THE FALL IMPLIES IT, especially when viewed in connection with the Divine purity and holiness as the only moral standard for humanity (Genesis 17:1; Exodus 22:31; Leviticus 11:44; Psalms 24:3-4; Isaiah 35:8).
II. CIRCUMCISION OF THE HEART WAS AN INDISPENSABLE QUALIFICATION for serving God (Deuteronomy 10:16; Deu_30:6), which was symbolized by circumcision (Romans 2:29) as it is now by baptism (1 Peter 3:21).
III. It was PREFIGURED IN THE CHANGE OF HEART CONFERRED on Saul and 1 Samuel 10:9; 1Sa_16:13).
IV. It was RECOGNIZED IN DAVID’S PRAYER FOR PURITY (Psalms 51:10).
V. It was EXPRESSLY PROMISED AS A MESSIANIC BLESSING (Ezekiel 11:19; Eze_18:31; Eze_36:26; Jeremiah 4:4; Jer_31:33).
VI. EVEN THE TERM “REGENERATION” WAS NOT UNKNOWN (Job 11:12; Psalms 37:25).
The reasonableness of regeneration
What phraseology was more familiar with the infidel revolutionists of France than the regeneration of their country? And is the idea of a regenerated individual an extravagant one, to be sneered at, when that of a regenerated nation is one to be treated with respect? Yea, infidel speculators will discourse of a regenerated world, and yet make sport to themselves of our faith, as if it were fantastic and visionary, when we speak of the regeneration of a single man! How is it that, being such masters in philosophy and politics, they know not these things? (W. Anderson, D. D.)
We speak that we do know
Consider THE PLACE THE BIBLE HOLDS as an evidence of Christianity.
1. The Bible is the history of the Jewish people, and their existence to-day is a guarantee that the basis of the book is firm and undeniable.
2. Every contemporaneous and collateral witness adds to this assurance. The remains of Egypt and Assyria, the traditions of the Jews, allusions in Greek and Roman monuments and classic authors are grounds upon which we are assured of the historic character of the Scriptures.
3. The Bible is a whole literature.
4. It is the history of a religion. The fundamental ideas of the various books are the same--but there is a manifest progress. The earlier writers look forward to a greater revelation. The ideas become clearer and clearer. The advancing faith never contradicts the past, and at length the culmination appears in Jesus.
II. THE ADAPTATION OF CHRISTIANITY TO THE SPIRITUAL NEEDS OF MAN. Christ makes great assertions, but never attempts to prove them. Here He makes His heater’s hesitation the consequence, not of defect in the evidence, but of defect in the man. For such a truth as the new birth admitted of no other evidence than its own light. Salvation must be based on a voluntary self-surrender. No more proof must be given therefore than will leave room for doubt, if men desire to doubt. Mathematical truth admits of perfect demonstration, but if religious truth leaves no room for doubt, then faith ceases to be religious. Its evidence is a probation for man. The force of this evidence varies according to spiritual condition. If a man is debased by sin, he will not readily open his heart, but if he is convicted of sinfulness, he will respond to the gospel and perceive how exactly Divine revelation is adapted to his need. Then its certainty will be felt in proportion to what he has found of peace and gladness. Just as the correspondence between the eye and light makes it absolutely certain that the one was made for the other, so it is with Christianity. Water cannot rise above the level of its source, and that men should of their own accord produce the Bible, and infuse into it such a marvellous power of raising men near its standard, is incredible. We shall feel the force of this far more if we can bring our own experience forward as a testimony. In this way each Christian becomes a living proof. (P. W. Darnton, B. A.)
Christian faith a reality
It seems a moderate claim that the alleged truths of our religion should be respected as realities But this demand covers the whole ground. Admit
1. That God is a real Father and Sovereign.
2. That each soul is His child and subject.
3. That separation from Him is the most terrible of disasters, to be healed at any cost.
4. That Jesus is the Christ who achieves that reconciliation.
5. That a righteous life is the fulfilment of human destiny. Admit this, and you have granted the whole conclusion. The terms imply something more than intellectual assent. There is such a thing as an ineffectual creed. To realize a doctrine is to have it wrought into the roots of our life. This realization only takes place when the truth emerges from the nebulous haze of conjecture into clear, sharp light--when it takes hold of feeling and is taken hold of by faith. This is needed now for the true efficiency of religion. For our religion is not dogma, or theory, or dream, but a spiritual power. Let us examine a few facts, in the Christian faith which authenticate its claim as a religion of realities.
I. THE IDEA OF GOD. Christianity did not create this. It simply places itself on the basis of a natural reality affirmed by the consenting feelings and philosophies of the nations; and then proceeds to nourish and satisfy it.
1. It is a real authority that speaks (John 3:11).
2. There is reality in the very attitudes and occasions of its revelations.
3. Reality in its substance. “God is a Spirit,” and with that simple announcement old idolatries that materialized the gods, and mythologies that multiplied them, vanished.
4. Reality in its disclosures of God’s nearness and condescension. He is the God of houses, streets, schools--not distant or etherealized.
II. This opens the true doctrine of INTERCOURSE WITH GOD, or prayer. What is natural if not that a child should speak to his parents, that man should ask for what God only can give? Prayer is a reality--something yearned for, something satisfying. So speaks the world’s best experience. To pretend to ask things we do not really desire, or things we have heard others ask for, is not prayer, but speculation or traditional mummery. Christ brings prayer back to reality. “Ask, and ye shall receive.”
III. Co-ordinate with this is LOVE FOR MAN. Here again Christianity does not create the faculty, but out of it weaves the bond of spiritual brotherhood. In training this social instinct Christianity gives it the brightest tokens of reality.
1. It stimulates fellowship, and by the healthiest motive--disinterested mercy, of which its central and crucified Form is the incarnate example.
2. It regulates it by the wisest law--broad, far-seeing, equity, saving it from wronging one class by righting another, from destroying without constructing.
3. It directs it to the purest object--the personal relief, the universal liberation, the spiritual rectitude of each soul.
IV. Turning from the social to the private offices of Christianity, we encounter the only satisfactory interpretation of the natural YEARNING TOWARDS AN IDEAL MORAL PERFECTION. It is only in very inferior natures that this sensibility to exalted goodness is utterly depraved. Baseness secretly confesses the beauty of magnanimity. The story of incorruptible conscience is the perpetual charm of literature. With all select souls there is a tantalizing disparity between the aspiring aim and the lagging performance. How does the gospel justify this real passion for the best?
1. By blessing these native aspirations as the Divine seal set on humanity.
2. By encouraging them.
3. By furnishing them nutriment and discipline to ripen their vigour.
4. By holding up one in whom all their promises are realized.
5. By giving them a hereafter where they shall mature into open vision and into calm and balanced power.
V. Not less does the gospel fit the varieties of human consciousness in its great doctrine of A RULING CHOICE DETERMINING CHARACTER. It divides the world into two classes by the inexorable line of that voluntary consecration. There is one differencing point, the point of motive, where the world’s people and God’s divide.
VI. But there is one reality darker and more fearful. THE LAW AND GUIDE OF LIFE HAS BEEN BROKEN. I know I am frail, offending, and guilty. Who shall deliver me? Christ. He has come for that.
VII. Infer, then, THE REALITY OF CHRISTIANITY.
1. In its ministry to the cravings of simple, honest hearts.
2. In its marvellous adaptation to the pain and gladness, fear and hope of our humanity.
3. In its unpretending address to our common habits, speaking the language of life.
4. In its boundless relief for a boundless difficulty.
5. In its expanding and exhaustless fulness for all glowing souls.
VIII. THE EARLY CHRISTIANS PREACHED, LIVED, DIED, FOR THIS REALITY, AND CONQUERED THE WORLD. (Bp. Huntington.)
The positiveness of Christianity as a truth and a practice
Whatever exists, exists positively, has existence and also energy. Positiveness is the very soul of growth.
I. CHRISTIANITY IS POSITIVE.
1. God is a positive Being.
2. Man is a positive being.
3. Sin is a positive condition.
4. Holiness is a positive state,
II. CHRISTIANITY MUST BE POSITIVELY APPLIED.
1. It is to honour God.
2. It is to be serviceable to man.
3. It is to prove victorious over sin.
4. It is to be potential unto holiness.
III. THE POSITIVENESS OF CHRISTIANITY IS NEUTRALIZED
1. When it is interpreted as a system of polite moral and aesthetic education. There is a class of writers and preachers who blot out of the Scriptures everything that is positive, who drop every word that bristles with damnatory energy, theorize the birth of Jesus, reduce the atonement to heroism, treat human depravity as a misfortune, speak patronizingly of hell as an exploded idea, and allude pleasantly to heaven as a benevolent myth. Many people are frightened by this “modern thought.” They need not be, for this is a positive age, and a negative religion can make no headway.
2. When it is over-organized. Christ did not organize it because He saw that truth was over.organized, and therefore cramped. Christianity is a power only when it is organized in human hearts. (W. H. H. Murray.)
The positiveness of Christianity
You may judge of this
I. BY ITS WORDS. Its “shalls” and “shall nots” are like so many bugle notes put into print. They sound with the energy of the Apocalyptic trumpets. Its commandments fall upon the conscience as a hammer of steel falls upon the anvil. Its warnings sound like the solemn protest of an indignant universe. Its threatenings roll over the guilty soul like the dreadful reverberations of ponderous thunder. Even its invitations suggest the tension of anxiety, and its entreaties come to our ears impelled by the urgency of anxious and infinite affection. Its very words are charged with significance almost to the limit of explosion. Heaven and hell, sin and holiness, faith and unbelief, life and death, salvation and damnation--these are glorious or dreadful words, mighty affirmations, expressions which challenge the attention of the most sceptical, and fill the thoughtful mind with solemn awe. No other religion has ever weighted the pages of its sacred books with such dreadful emphasis; no other religion has ever brought its believers face to face with such stupendous positiveness of assertion and conception. But if the verbal expression of Christianity is thus positive, what language is adequate to describe the positiveness of
II. ITS SPIRIT? If its body is so tense and vibrant with energies, who may pourtray the vigour of its animating spirit? If the unlighted orb, as it hangs rayless overhead, can draw every eye to its dark circle, and compel human attention, what would be its power if its inherent fires should break through the shell of sombre surface, and the mighty sphere should suddenly be ablaze with beams? Tell me, you who know the words of Scripture, and have also felt the movings of its matchless and irresistible spirit, which is the stronger? Tell me, you who once heard in the word heaven the sound of sweet but far-off music, but who now have the resonance of the Divine harmonies sounding in you, did you know aught of that melodious word until the chime of it made music in your soul? No. Not till the spirit of Christianity is received into his heart can man know or dream how positive are its operations. Nor can man know what hell is until he lies enfolded within the coils of some serpentine remorse, and the dreadful stricture tightens on his conscience until he screams and moans in the agony of a tormented spirit. Do not say “exaggeration,” for you know that what I say is true, when I declare that men and women there have been who have committed crimes so dark, dreadful, and damning, so obnoxious even to their blurred moral vision, that the memory of their deed has haunted them--yea, haunted them so that they could not eat, nor sleep, nor forget: thefires of remorse were within their bosom, and they could not quench them; the “damned spot” was on their hands, and all the seas could not wash the awful stain away, and at last they died: died screaming in agony, as if the torment of hell had already got hold of them; and it had. (W. H. H. Murray.)
God’s message is but carelessly listened to
Massilon, in the first sermon he ever preached, found the whole audience, upon his getting into the pulpit, in a disposition no way favourable to his intentions. Their nods, whispers, or drowsy behaviour showed him that there was no great profit to be expected from his sowing in a soil so improper. However, he soon changed the disposition of his audience by his manner of beginning. “If,” says he, “a cause, the most important that could be conceived, were to be tried at the bar before qualified judges; if this cause interested ourselves in particular; if the eyes of the whole kingdom were fixed upon the events; if the most eminent counsel were employed on both sides; and if we had heard from our infancy of this yet undetermined trial--would you not all sit with due attention and warm expectation to the pleadings on each side? Would not all your hopes and fears be hinged on the final decision? And yet, let me tell you, you have this moment a cause where not one nation, but all the world, are spectators; tried not before a fallible tribunal, but the awful throne of heaven, where not your temporal and transitory interests are the subject of debate, but your eternal happiness or misery; where the cause is still undetermined, but, perhaps, the very moment I am speaking may fix the irrevocable decree that shall last for ever; and yet, notwithstanding all this, you can hardly sit with patience to hear the tidings of your own salvation. I plead the cause of heaven, and yet I am scarcely attended to.”
If I have told you of earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?
--The question in its bare form is easily grappled with, but in its application to the subjects before us we encounter a great obstacle. Earthly things are the deep things of the new birth; heavenly things are the lifting up of the Son of man, the gift of the Only-Begotten, that the world through Him might be saved. Regeneration and santification are by comparison earthly things; redemption, atonement, justification are by contrast and preeminence heavenly. He who believes not the former, how can he believe the latter We notice
I. AN INVERSION OF OUR COMMON ESTIMATE OF THE MYSTERIES OF CHRIST’S KINGDOM.
1. It is usual to speak of the work of Christ as far easier of apprehension than the work of the Spirit. The idea of atonement is treated as self-evident, and theory after theory has been constructed to explain it. But Christ says difficult as it is to understand a Divine influence, it is more difficult to apprehend a Divine sacrifice; that He only who is from heaven can reveal the latter, while a master of Israel is culpably ignorant if he knows not of the former.
2. The same persons exaggerate the mystery of the doctrine of grace, whereas Christ treats it as a plain earthly thing. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews treats it in the same way, bidding us leave the elements, baptism, etc., to go on to perfection--the strong meat, the profounder study of the fulfilment of type and shadow in the atonement and mediation of Jesus Christ.
II. CAN WE EXPLAIN THIS INVERSION?
1. With regard to the new birth.
2. How different with the topics that follow! At first sight less mysterious, for was not Christ really man, and was not His sacrifice a human death? Yet when we turn to that which the human enshrined, the mystery of Christ’s Person, we see the appositeness of the term heavenly.
III. Let us press upon ourselves the thought of THE HEAVENLINESS OF THE ONE ALL-SUFFICIENT SACRIFICE. We have in our Lord’s question the key to much of modern unbelief. Christ tells us of our need of Divine grace to change us into new men, and we believe not that. Men confess that they must be moral, but contend that they can secure that for themselves, and that it is weakness to look cut of themselves for help. Nature refuses grace. Who, then, can wonder if the same unbelief shall spread into the region of the heavenly, and the scoffer at grace scoff at atonement? (Dean Vaughan.)
The moral and the revealed truths
We may distinguish between these. Christ’s teaching in its practical applications is its earthly side; His revelation of God, His nature and will its heavenly side.
I. THE MORAL TEACHING OF CHRIST MUST BE ACCEPTED BY EVERY UPRIGHT CONSCIENCE.
1. Where else do you find the idea of the sovereign and eternal value of right more clearly and firmly expressed?
2. The same applies to holiness. He opposes the systems which make it consist in outward performances, and places stress on the intention.
3. None more than Christ have preached the necessity of sacrificing one’s self for the sake of truth.
4. Whoever taught as Christ the relations of men with one another and the bonds of justice and mercy which should units them? Christ alone has made love the supreme law of mankind.
5. Not only has He taught all this; He has acted all He has taught.
6. This is why He has a right to the authority He claims over our consciences, and why when He tells us of earthly things He has a right to be believed.
II. CHRIST CLAIMS THE SAME FAITH AS THE REVEALER OF RELIGIOUS TRUTH. He is not merely a teacher of morals; He speaks of the things which are far beyond our human vision: of God, His government, providence, saving purposes, judgment. In the presence of these affirmations our situation changes. So long as His moral teaching was in question we could judge of it by our consciences, but here are declarations we cannot control.
1. Are we justified in putting faith in Christ.? If we set aside this faith, no other means of access to religious truth remains. Science can teach us nothing. Are we then to remain in the dark? Men have tried to do so, but always unsuccessfully.
2. Is Christ to be believed?
Earthly and heavenly things
Heavenly things, being represented unto us in an earthly form (John 3:8), come clothed to us with our own notions. We can see the sun better when reflected in the water of a vase than in the firmament; and we can interpret heaven’s language best when it speaks to us in the language of earth. (T. Manton.)
No man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven
Christ comforting Nicodemus
Christ having reproved Nicodemus for his ignorance, now shows the remedy thereof in Himself.
1. Christ’s sharp word is not His last. Having inflicted a wound He offers Himself, the only remedy, to cure it.
2. It is alike impossible for men, by their own parts and natural endowments, to comprehend spiritual mysteries and enter into God’s counsels, here called an ascending up to heaven.
3. In so far as sinners come to a true and saving knowledge of heavenly mysteries, they are in a sort transported up to heaven. If Capernaum were exalted to heaven by the offer of these things, what are they who embrace them?
4. It is proper in Christ only, in some sense, to ascend to heaven, both for the measure and degree of knowledge which, as God, is infinite, and, as man, is large as human nature is capable of, and for the kind of knowledge which, as God, is of Himself, and can only be man’s by communication from Him who came down from heaven.
5. The Son of God in the boson of the Father manifested Himself in our nature, that He might in our nature understand and communicate the heavenly mysteries; therefore it is marked as the ground of His ascending or comprehending these things that He came down, hereby showing that His abasing of Himself did exalt Him as Mediator to that dignity, to be the storehouse of wisdom to His people.
6. Christ, by His Incarnation, did not cease to be God, for He is still in heaven.
7. The Son of God has assumed the human nature into so strict a personal union that what is proper to either nature is ascribed unto the Person under whatsoever name. And hereby Christ shows His love to our nature that under that name, “Son of Man,” He ascribes what is proper to His Godhead to Himself. (G. Hutcheson.)
The text in relation to error
Three distinct heresies are overthrown by these words.
I. That of the NESTORIANS, who affirm a duality of persons as well as of natures in Christ; for unless our Blessed Lord were one Person, it could not in truth be affirmed that the Son of Man, even whilst on earth, was in heaven.
II. That of the CERINTHIANS and all others who deny the pre-existence and Divinity of Christ; for unless He had been God, it could not have been said that He came down from heaven even whilst still in heaven.
III. That of the MANICHAEANS, who deny the proper humanity of our Blessed Lord; for unless He had been really man, of the substance of His mother, it could not be said that He was the Son of Man. (Toletus.)
The Son of Man
The name is used
I. Not only because of His Incarnation, but also because of the manner of that Incarnation. When He came into this world and manifested Himself, so that we were able to see Him who by nature is invisible, He might have taken new flesh and a body created especially for Him, other than that of man. He, however, took man’s flesh, and calls Himself here the Son of Man, and so assures us that He was really born of woman; otherwise He would not be really the Son of Man. These words also declare, not only that He took our flesh, for this alone would not have made Him the Son of Man, but that He took it by being born.
II. These words remind us for our comfort that He is truly our Brother, and that we are all brethren of Christ by virtue of His birth as the Son of Man.
III. He uses these words to certify us of the fulfilment of those promises which declared that He should take our flesh and be the seed of man, the Son of David and of Abraham.
IV. Again, He uses these words in confirmation of our being made the sons of God; for if Christ for our sake became the Son of Man, we through His humiliation and Incarnation were therefore made the sons of God.
V. By using the name, Son of Man, the mark of His humiliation, He would teach us humility. (Toletus.)
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness
The brazen serpent
Nicodemus’s confession of faith was substantially that of many amongst us, only he went a bit further.
Because he was honest he deserved, and because he was half blind he needed, Christ’s instruction for the expanding of his creed. Complete Christianity, according to Christ, involves
I. THE PROFOUND PARADOXICAL PARALLEL BETWEEN THE IMAGE OF THE POISONER AND THE LIVING HEALER. The correspondence between the lifting up of the serpent and the lifting up of Christ, the look of the half-dead Israelite and the look of faith, the healing in both cases, are clear; and with these it would be strange were there no correspondence between the two subjects. We admit that Jesus Christ has come in the likeness of the victims of the poison, “made in the likeness of sinful flesh,” without sin; but in a very profound sense He stood also as representative of the cause of the evil. “God hath made Him to be sin for us,” etc. And the brazen image in the likeness of the poisonous creature, and yet with no poison in it, reminds us that on Christ were heaped the evils that tempt humanity. And Paul, speaking of the consequences of Christ’s death, says that “He spoiled principalities and powers, and made a show of them openly”--hanging them up there--“triumphing over them in it.” Just as that brazen image was hung up as a proof that the venomous power of living serpents was overcome, so in the death of Christ sin is crucified and death done to death.
II. THE SHADOW OF THE CROSS.
1. The serpent was lifted for conspicuousness; and Nicodemus must have understood, although vaguely, that this Son of Man was to be presented not to a handful of people in an obscure corner, but to the whole world, as the Healer.
2. But Christ’s prescient eye and foreboding heart travelled, onwards to the cross. This is proved from the two other occasions, when He used the same expression.
3. So from the beginning Christ’s programme was death. He did not begin as most teachers, full of enthusiastic dreams, and then, as the illusions disappeared, face the facts of rejection and death.
4. Notice, too, the place in Christ’s work which the cross assumed to Him. There have been many answering to Nicodemus’s conception--teachers, examples, righteous men, reformers; but all these have worked by their lives: “this Man comes to work by His death. He came to heal, and you will not get the poison out of men by exhortations, philosophies, moralities, social reforms. Poison cannot be treated by surface applications, but by the cross.
5. The Divine necessity which Christ accepts--“must.” This was often on His lips. Why?
III. THE LOOK OF FAITH. The dying Israelite had to look. Suppose he had looked unbelieving, carelessly, scoffingly, there would have been no healing. The look was required as the expression of
IV. THE PROMISE OF HEALING.
1. In the one ease of the body, in the other case of the soul.
2. The gift of life--something bestowed, not evolved.
3. This eternal life is present, and by its power arrests the process of poisoning, and heals the whole nature.
4. It is available for the most desperate cases. Christianity knows nothing of hopeless men. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The brazen serpent
The difference between the Gospels and the Epistles is that between seed and flower. Christ gave men the seeds of truth, and left inspired apostles to develop them. Paul has been charged with inventing the doctrine of the atonement, but it is in this verse in germ. Notice here three analogies
I. IN THE DISEASE. The poison of the fiery serpents was fermenting in the Israelites; that of sin is fermenting in us.
1. Men are sinners: a trite observation, but Paul devoted three chapters in Romans to prove it. Our very righteousness is as filthy rags, and you may endeavour by moral improvements to wash them, but you can no more wash them clean than an Ethiop can his left hand by rubbing it with his right.
2. We are all sinners. There is no difference. Irrational animals come short of the glory of God; but men “fall short.” The idea of a fall underlies all human history: hence culpability. Some men have fallen more deeply, but there is no difference in the fact.
3. All are under sentence of death. “Guilty before God,” subject to penalty--death. The wages never fall below that.
4. Not only so, but we are polluted, morally sick. What brought death upon us wrought it in us. The venom of the serpents would assuredly terminate in death, in spite of all self or other help. We all sinned in Adam, but Adam continues to sin in us. Sickness is contagious, health never. The Jew transmitted his depravity, not his circumcision: you impart your sin to your posterity, not your holiness. Each has to be regenerated anew.
II. IN THE REMEDY.
1. Our salvation comes through man. The Israelites were bitten by serpents, and by a serpent they were to be healed. By man came sin; by man comes salvation.
2. Not only by man, but the Son of Man, one who in the core of His being is closely united to every other man. According to the ancient law, the Goel or nearest relative alone had the right to redeem. Christ is the nearest relative any man can have.
3. The Son of Man lifted up. The tendency is to make the Incarnation the centre of Christianity: the Bible makes the Cross that. A glorious display of condescending grace was made at Bethlehem; but on Calvary God and man were reconciled. Christ suffered
4. The necessity for our atonement. Not shall, but must. The “must” of verse 10 indicates the necessity for a radical change in order to salvation; that of our text the necessity of an atonement on the part of God. Sin must be published. God’s righteousness must be upheld, and all its demands met.
5. Jesus Christ uplifted is now both physician and remedy to His people. The brazen serpent could only heal our disease: Christ saves to the uttermost
III. Is THE APPLICATION OF THE REMEDY FOR THE DISEASE. The Israelites were not bidden to apply poultices, but to look. You are not enjoined to improve yourselves, but to believe.
1. Through faith in Christ the sinner has permission to live. Two words are used in this connection; forgive--give for; remit--set free; corresponding to χαρίζομαι, to show grace, and ἀφίημι, to discharge. These must not be confused. As Broad Church theologians contend every one has been forgiven, but in the first sense. God has “given for” man all that Almighty Love could offer. But men are only forgiven in the second sense when they accept God’s pardoning grace.
2. By faith we acquire the right to live--this is justification and more than pardon, permission to live.
3. The power to live--regeneration.
1. In Christ’s days faith in everlasting life had become practically extinct.
2. Christ revived it, not simply teaching it, but imparting it. (J. Cynddylan Jones, D. D.)
The brazen serpent
I. IT WAS TO BE MADE IN THE LIKENESS OF THAT WHICH WAS DESTROYING THEM. Around are serpents victorious: here the serpent conquered and exhibited as a trophy, and the people who see it live. Around us the powers of darkness and death are victorious, and sinning souls are dead in trespasses and sins. Behold on the cross sin, but sin judged, condemned, executed, held up as a specatcle. “He was made sin,” etc.
II. When the wounded Israelite looked on the brazen serpent, he found a PROOF OF GOD’S ABILITY AND A PLEDGE OF GOD’S WILLINGNESS TO SAVE HIM. As we turn to the cross, the old man is crucified that the body of sin might be destroyed.
III. THE NEW LIFE WAS MIRACULOUS IN ITS CHARACTER: it was not by any natural process of improvement or gradual restoration.
IV. How may we APPROPRIATE THE BENEFITS OF CHRIST’S REDEMPTION? Let us take a walk round the camp.
1. In one tent is a man who declines to look because he has tried every remedy that science can provide, and who says, “How can I be saved by looking at a mere bit of brass?” and dies because he is too proud to be saved in God’s way. And so people plead that they cannot understand the doctrine of the atonement, and seem to regard themselves as under no obligation to trust Him who has made that atonement. Will not a general trust in the mercy of God suffice? But the Israelites were not told to discover the mode of the Divine operation.
2. There is another very far gone who says, “Not for me--too late,” and dies. So many now regard their case as hopeless, but Christ came to save the chief of sinners.
3. We meet with another who says, “I am all right, but I had a narrow escape. The serpent didn’t bite; it was only a scratch.” “But a scratch is fatal; go at once and look.” “Oh, no! there’s no danger; but if anything should come of it I will act on your suggestion. At present I am in a hurry; I have some business.” By and by the poison works. Oh for a look at the serpent now! So many perish now by making light of their danger.
4. Here is a man suffering acute agony, who listens with eagerness but obstinate incredulity. “If God wished to save, He would speak. Besides, the middle of the camp is a long way, and how can healing influence extend so far? Well, to oblige you, I will look; but I don’t expect anything will come of it. There; I have looked, and am no better.” So, too, many amongst us try a series of experiments. “I’m trying to believe, but I feel no better.”
5. We turn aside into a home of sorrow. A broken-hearted mother is bending over her little girl. But lamentation will not arrest the malady. “Mother, your child may live.” The mother listens with the incredulity of joy, but the little one cries, “Mother, I want to look at Moses’ serpent.” Instantly the mother’s arms are around her, and the child is borne to the door. She lifts her deep blue eyes, while the mother, in an agony of hope and fear, stands waiting. “Mother I I am healed.” There is life for a look at the crucified One. Look and live. (W. H. M. H. Aitken, M. A.)
The brazen serpent
I. An HISTORICAL FACT DIVINELY ACKNOWLEDGED (Numbers 21:4-9). Christ’s entire belief in the Old Testament Scriptures.
II. AN INTIMATE CONNECTION CLEARLY REVEALED.
1. Each divinely appointed.
2. Each met a terrible necessity.
3. Benefit in each case secured by faith.
III. A GREAT NECESSITY INSISTED UPON. “Must.” Without Christ’s death none can have life.
IV. A BLESSED PURPOSE CROWNING ALL.
1. A calamity from which we may be delivered.
2. A blessedness to which we may attain.
3. The means of deliverance.
4. The universality of the statement. The only way of mercy and salvation. (J. James.)
The brazen serpent
I. THE BANE. Sin under the aspect of the serpent’s bite. This symbol has a twofold significance.
1. It glances back to the Old Serpent in Eden; as do also, more or less, that singular phenomenon among so many heathen nations, serpent-worship.
2. The main significance is the light which it throws on sin itself. Its character is spiritual venom; its effects are anguish and death. Those who say, I feel none of those poisonous effects, only prove themselves by that to be the more fatally steeped in sin’s sweltering venom; for they bewray the awful state described in Scripture as “past feeling,” or having the “conscience seared as with a hot iron.”
II. THE ANTIDOTE. Christ uplifted on the Cross and upheld in the gospel as the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. The atonement is the only healing balm. Penances, moralities, and all other substitutes are vain.
1. There is a marked significance in the serpent itself and the very pole. The atonement is as eloquent of sin as it is of salvation. The most awful exhibition of sin ever given was that given on the Cross. Hence our guilt is represented as superscribed thereon--as a handwriting against us legible to the entire universe. In the cross, and on the Crucified, God emphatically “condemned sin.”
2. The human race have been so infected with the serpent’s venom as to be called after the name of their father, “serpents,” “scorpions,” a “generation of vipers.” Now Christ came not in sinful flesh, but in its “likeness.” The Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all as the representative of humanity. Even as the serpent of brass on the pole was in the likeness of the fiery serpents, but, unlike them, had no venom in it. In this vicarious way was human guilt declared, exposed, condemned.
3. The sin, by being condemned, was “put away.” As in the ancient sacrifices the fire symbolically burned up the imputed sin along with the victim, so, on the Cross, the world’s sin was put away in Christ’s sufferings, considered as a barrier to salvation. This blow to sin was a death-blow to Satan. It was the bruising of the serpent’s head Hebrews 2:14-15).
III. The MEANS by which the antidote becomes available for the removal of the bane; viz., faith. The wounded Israelites were healed by seeing; the perishing sinner by believing. Notice here in Its proper place the significance of the pole. It was the chief military standard--not the minor or portable ones that were borne about, but the main standard that stood conspicuous in the most prominent part of the camp, fixed in the ground, and from which floated a flag (Jeremiah 51:27; Isaiah 49:22. See Isaiah 13:2; Isa_13:3-8; Isa_62:10-11). These texts amply illustrate the use and meaning of the large banner-poles, with their floating insignia, as the symbol of universality of promulgation, and thence of Divine interposition of world-wide scope. The texts cited, or referred to, though beginning with the ordinary uses of the symbol, soon run it into Gospel moulds; and most fitly, for very ancient predictions had declared that “unto him,” the Shiloh, “shall the gathering of the people be” (Genesis 49:10; Isaiah 11:10; John 12:32). (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
The brazen serpent
I. THERE IS A STRIKING SIMILARITY BETWEEN THE CONDITION OF THE WOUNDED ISRAELITES AND THE STATE OF MAN BY NATURE.
1. Theirs was a degraded condition. Their pain was the result of their transgression.
II. THERE IS A STRIKING RESEMBLANCE BETWEEN THE MEANS EMPLOYED FOR THE RELIEF OF THE WOUNDED ISRAELITES AND THE METHOD OF OUR RECOVERY FROM SIN AND DEATH BY JESUS CHRIST.
1. The brazen serpent in shape exactly resembled the fiery serpent. So Christ was made in the likeness of sinful flesh.
2. The serpent was lifted up, which is emblematical of
III. THE RESEMBLANCE BETWEEN THE FEELINGS OF THE WOUNDED ISRAELITES AND THOSE OF THE AWAKENED PENITENT IN THE ACTS OF LOOKING AND BELIEVING RESPECTIVELY. They were
1. Sensible of their calamity.
2. Filled with humility.
IV. THE RESEMBLANCE AS TO THE EFFICACY OF THE REMEDY IN BOTH CASES. In their
2. Efficacy to work in the first or last stages of the disease.
3. Completeness of cure.
1. That salvation can only be ascribed to the free grace of God.
2. The freedom with which this salvation is bestowed.
3. That gratitude becomes those who have received mercy. (T. Gibson, M. A.)
The brazen serpent
I. THE INCIDENT REFERRED TO. This typical event occurred towards the close of the wanderings. The people’s discouragements had been many, and now the king of Edom suffered them not to pass through his border. The Church must lay its account with difficulty and checks and foes. The Christian who turns out of the straight path at the first menace of the Edomite will find more formidable difficulties before he gets to the heavenly Canaan. Now see the form their murmurings took. Aaron and Miriam are dead, and as Moses is not enough to receive all their taunts they “spoke against God.” “There is no bread, neither is there any water,” and this when they had the best of both; so easily does a fretful spirit turn into bitterness the best gifts of God. There was something of peculiar aggravation in this sin, and the retribution was awful. “Would God we had died in the wilderness!” and the prayer was answered. Now they humble themselves. What powerful teachers are sharp afflictions! Moses prayed for them, and God heard his prayer. To have destroyed the serpents would have been as easy as to command the setting up of the brazen one; but God would give His people a part in their own salvation.
1. Of this event there could be no doubt.
2. The serpent had a sacramental character.
3. When this sacramental character encouraged superstition, the serpent was destroyed.
II. THE LESSONS FORESHADOWED.
1. The significant intimation that Christ should die. It was placed on a level with the sacrifices and other symbols which typified the atonement.
2. Salvation does not come to us through Christ’s being lifted up merely, but through our looking at Him. In the other miracles everything was done by Moses alone. In this case the symbol had no power but that which the faith of the people gave it. The Cross is not a mechanical chain. We must believe.
1. As the Old Testament and the New are one hook, so the Old Testament way of saving is the same as that of the New.
2. Salvation is the free gift of God received by faith. (D. Moore, M. A.)
The brazen serpent
The type and the antitype correspond
I. IN THE OCCASION OF THEIR INSTITUTION. The Israelites were wounded by the serpents; we are wounded by sin.
II. IN THEIR QUALITIES.
1. The serpent was made of an inferior metal; Christ was a root out of a dry ground.
2. There was only one brazen serpent for the whole Jewish camp; there is only one Mediator between God and man.
3. The serpent was appointed of God; Christ was appointed by the Father.
4. The serpent was publicly lifted up; Christ is uplifted by His ministers.
III. IN THE MANNER IN WHICH THE BENEFIT IS DERIVED.
1. By looking personally.
3. Steadily and constantly.
IV. IN THE EFFECTS THEY PRODUCE.
1. The completeness of the cure.
2. Its universality.
1. How simple is the way of salvation.
2. How injurious is unbelief. If we despise this ordinance of God we shall perish. (S. Sutton.)
The mysteries of the brazen serpent
All languages are based on figures. When we teach children we employ figures. And so Christ employed figures to teach this spiritual child the things of the kingdom: a better way than by the use of abstract terms.
I. THE PEOPLE IN THE WILDERNESS, the representatives of sinful men.
1. They had stood valiantly in fight, but the serpents were things that trembled not at the sword. They had endured weariness and thirst and hunger, but these were novelties, and new terrors are terrible from their very novelty. If we could see our condition we should feel as Israel when they saw the serpents.
2. Behold the people after they were bitten--the fire coursing through their veins. We cannot say that sin produces instantly such an effect, but it will ultimately. Fiery serpents are nothing to fiery lusts.
3. How awful must have been the death of the serpent! bitten, and how awful the death of the man without Christ.
II. THE BRAZEN SERPENT. The type of Christ crucified; both remedies.
1. A number, perhaps, declared it absurd that a brazen serpent should do what physicians could not. So many despise Christ crucified.
2. Some say the cross will only increase the evil, just as old physicians averred that the sight of anything bright would intensify the effect of the poison. So many make out that salvation by the Cross destroys morality.
3. Much as those who heard of the brazen serpent might have despised it there was no other means of cure. So “there is none other name,” etc.
III. WHAT WAS TO BE DONE TO THE BRAZEN SERPENT? It was to be lifted up--so was Christ.
1. By wicked men.
2. By God the Father.
3. By ministers. Let them so preach Him that He may be seen.
IV. WHAT WERE ISRAEL TO DO? To look; the convinced sinner is to believe.
1. There were, perhaps, some who would not look, and some will not come to Christ for life: perhaps
2. Those who would be saved must look.
1. Christ was lifted up on purpose for you to look at.
2. He invites you to believe.
3. He promises to save. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The lifting up of the brazen serpent
I. THE PERSON IN MORTAL PERIL for whom the brazen serpent was made.
1. The fiery serpents came among the people because they had despised God’s way and God’s bread (Numbers 21:1-35.). The natural consequence of turning against God like serpents is to find serpents waylaying our path.
2. Those for whom the brazen serpent was uplifted had been actually bitten by the serpents. The common notion is that salvation is for good people, but God’s medicine is for the guilty.
3. The bite of the serpent was painful. So many by sin are restless, discontented, and fearful. Jesus died for such as are at their wits’ end.
4. The bite was mortal. There could be no question about that--nor about the effects of sin.
5. There is no limit set to the stage of poisoning: however far gone, the remedy still had power. So the gospel promise has no qualifying clause.
II. THE REMEDY PROVIDED FOR HIM.
1. It was purely of Divine origin: and God will not devise a failure.
2. Exceedingly instructive. Wonder of wonders that our Lord Jesus should condescend to be symbolized by a dead snake.
3. There was but one remedy for the serpent bite: there was only one brazen serpent, not two. If a second had been made it would have had no effect.
4. It was bright and lustrous, made of shining metal. So if we do but exhibit Jesus in His own true metal He is lustrous in the eyes of men.
5. The remedy was enduring. So Jesus saves to the uttermost.
III. THE APPLICATION OF THE REMEDY.
1. The simplest imaginable. It might, had God so ordered, have been carried into the house, rubbed on the man, and applied with prayers and priestly ceremonies. But he has only to look; and it was wall, for the danger was so frequent.
2. Very personal. A man could not be cured by what others could do for him--physicians, sisters, mothers, ministers.
3. Very instructive--self help must be abandoned and God be trusted.
IV. THE CURE EFFECTED.
1. He was healed at once. He had not to wait five minutes, nor five seconds. Pardon is not a work of time, although sanctification is.
2. The remedy healed again and again. The healed Israelites were in danger. The safest thing is not to take our eye off the brazen serpent at all.
3. It was of universal efficacy, and no man who looks to Christ remains under condemnation.
V. A LESSON FOR THOSE WHO LOVE THEIR LORD. Imitate Moses. He did not “incense” the brazen serpent, or hide it behind vestments or ceremonies, but raised it on a bare pole that all might see. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
I. THE STUNG ISRAELITE AND THE GUILTY SINNER.
1. As the Israelite had death in his bosom, so the sinner (Hebrews 2:14); although the latter sting may not be felt as was the former.
2. The Israelite wanted all means of cure, and had not God appointed the serpent he had perished. As helpless is the sinner till God shows us His Christ.
II. THE BRAZEN SERPENT AND CHRIST.
1. The serpent was accursed of God. Christ was made a curse for us Galatians 3:13).
2. The brazen serpent had the likeness of the serpent, but not the poison. Christ came in the similitude of sinful flesh without sin.
3. The brazen serpent was uplifted on a pole; Christ on the Cross.
4. As the poison of a serpent was healed by a serpent, so the sin of man by man (Romans 5:1-21.; 1 Corinthians 15:21). But Christ had power in Himself to heal us which the other had not.
5. The brazen serpent was not the device of an Israelite, but of God; so no man could have found out such a means of salvation as that established by Christ.
III. THE ISRAELITES LOOKING ON THE SERPENT, AND THE SINNERS BELIEVING IN CHRIST.
1. The Israelite was healed only by looking; so the sinner is justified only by believing.
2. As looking, as well as the rest of the senses, is a passion rather than an action; so in justification thou art a patient rather than an agent: thou boldest thy beggar’s hands to receive, that is all.
3. The Israelites before they looked up to the brazen serpent for help
So the sinner must
4. The stung Israelite looked on the serpent with a pitiful, humble, craving, wishly eye, weeping also for the very pain of the sting: with such an eye doth the believing sinner look on Christ crucified (Zechariah 12:10).
5. The Israelite by looking on the brazen serpent received ease presently, and was rid of the poison of the living serpent, and so therein was made, like the brazen serpent, void of all poison. So the believer, by looking on Christ, is eased of his guilty accusing conscience (Romans 5:11, and is transformed into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).
6. Even the squint-eyed or purblind Israelite was healed; so the weak believer, being a true believer, is healed by Christ.
7. Though the Israelite were stung never so often, yet if he looked up to the serpent he was healed. As we are daily stung by sin, so we must daily look up to Christ crucified. Every new sin must have a fresh act of faith and repentance.
Yet there are two differences betwixt their looking on the serpent and our looking by faith on Christ.
1. By looking they lived, but yet so that after they died; but here, by believing in Christ, we gain an eternal life.
2. They looked on the serpent, but the serpent could not look on them; but here, as thou lookest on Christ, so He on thee, as once on Peter, and on
Mary and John from the Cross, and thy comfort must rather be in Christ’s looking on thee, than in thy looking on Him. (J. Dyke.)
Sin and salvation through Christ
I. SIN. This was the occasion, with its consequent misery, of the setting up of the brazen serpent; so the occasion of Christ’s coming was man’s being bitten by the old serpent (Revelation 12:9; 2 Corinthians 11:3). Among the Israelites few were stung, here all; there their bodies, here the soul; there temporal death followed, here eternal.
1. The sting is painful, although not always. It is a great part of our misery not to know our misery. Yet Satan’s darts are often painful (Ephesians 6:16). Sin in life will make hell in conscience (Proverbs 18:14; Job 1 Corinthians 15:56).
2. The sting is deadly (Romans 5:12; Rom_6:23; Genesis 2:17). Not only death temporal, but spiritual and eternal (Mark 9:44; Proverbs 8:36).
II. CHRIST SET FORTH BY THE BRAZEN SERPENT.
1. The resemblance between the two.
(a) A serpent was chosen to show that He came in a mean estate Psalms 22:6; Isaiah 53:3; Mark 9:12);
(b) because the serpent was cursed of God (Genesis 3:14).
(c) The serpent was made of brass, not of gold.
(a) God would cure a serpent’s bite by a serpent (Romans 8:3).
(b) The parties to be cured were men; therefore the Son of Man must be lifted up.
(4) The place where the brazen serpent was uplifted was Punon Numbers 33:42-43), for from Punon they came to Oboth Numbers 21:10). This was in Idumaea, famous for mines of brass or copper--known among the ancients as “the metal of Punon.” Eusebius (“Eccl. Hist.,” bk. 8.) tells us that Sylvanus and thirty-nine more were beheaded for the faith’s sake near the mines of brass in Punon; and Eutychius, Epiphanius, and Theodoret speak of Christians condemned to work in these mines. So that the brass out of which the serpent was made was found in the place where they were bitten. That body which Christ assumed was not brought from elsewhere. Where the mischief was the remedy was at hand.
2. The super-excellency of Christ to the type. The brazen serpent
III. FAITH THE MEANS OF BENEFITING BY CHRIST.
1. The necessity of faith. None had benefit but such as looked Numbers 21:8).
2. The encouragement of faith
3. The nature of faith, which is a looking unto Christ. The act of faith is expressed by seeing or looking (Zechariah 12:10; Isaiah 17:7;John 6:40; Hebrews 11:1; Heb_11:27; Heb_12:2). Faith itself is said to be the eye of the soul (Ephesians 1:18; Galatians 3:1), and its hindrance blindness (2 Corinthians 4:4).
(a) Serious; not a glance, but a fixed eye.
(b) Applicative (Job 5:27; John 20:28).
(c) Affectionate, with desire and trust (2 Chronicles 20:12; Psalms 121:1; 1 Peter 1:7; Isaiah 17:7; Psalms 123:2; Psa_34:5).
(d) Engaging (Philippians 2:8; Ephesians 1:17).
The saving sight:--Two great historical facts--the uplifted serpent and the uplifted Saviour. Infinite is the difference between them in point of dignity and momentousness. The one had a narrow circle of a few thousands for its witnesses, and the desert for its theatre; the other a universe. From the one came body-healing, soon to be interrupted by death; from the other flows soul-healing unto life everlasting. But the one sheds much light on the other. Compare them
I. IN THE DESPERATE NATURE OF THE MALADY.
1. What could he more fatal or terrible than this judgment?
2. Like the camp of Israel, this is a world of dying men.
II. IN THE SURPRISING CHARACTER OF THE DIVINELY-PROVIDED REMEDY.
1. God alone could stay the judgment. All the virtue of the serpent of brass lay in the fact that it was appointed by God expressly for a sign of His merciful interposition.
2. Both were lifted up.
III. IN THE APPLICATION OF THE DIVINELY-APPOINTED REMEDY AND THE CERTAINTY AND INSTANTANEOUSNESS OF THE CURE. (A. Wilson, B. A.)
Regeneration: its objective cause
In speaking about the subjective work of Christianity Christ mentions only the initiatory acts in the new birth. In speaking of its objective work He introduces us to the central act. Around this very fact objective Christianity clusters.
I. THE LIFTING UP OF THE SON OF MAN. Our Lord dealt much in illustrations. In this chapter He borrows one from human life--birth; one from nature--wind; and now one from the Scriptures, showing how rich the historical events of the Old Testament were in types and symbols. This illustration is intended to set forth
1. The great fact that Christ was to be a healing medium.
2. The symbol of the devil is made the symbol of his Destroyer in the very act of bruising his head.
3. The virtue by which He should become the healing medium (John 12:32-33).
4. Christ’s moral as well as physical exaltation (see John 13:31-32) glorifying both Himself and His Father.
5. Christ’s transcendent greatness of mind, enabling Him to take cognizance only of the glory, and not of the degradation, of His suffering.
6. His “lifting up” by many tongues made eloquent by a love kindled from Calvary.
II. THIS GREAT TRANSACTION HAD FOR ITS OBJECT THE SALVATION OF MEN.
1. This salvation is negative and positive--meeting the twofold nature of sin, which is
2. This perishing is not annihilation, but a deprivation of vital relation to God; eternal life is a restoration of this relation.
3. These effects are the results of Christ’s “lifting up,” and connect the objective transaction with the subjective effects, and goes back to the matter of the new birth, which is organically connected with eternal life.
III. THE DIVINE LOVE, AS AN IMPELLING MOTIVE, WAS EQUAL TO THIS (John 3:6). Here, then, are five links in the wondrous chain.
It is implied
1. That the objects were so unworthy, that the method of redeeming them required so much humiliation and sacrifice, that the motive could only be found in the infinite love of God.
2. That this love is not to be described by word, but by action. “God so loved.” Here are two loves contending--God’s complacent love for His Son and His love of commiseration for the world.
IV. THAT GOD’S OBJECT IN ALL THIS IS BENEVOLENT (John 3:17). The declaration that Christ’s object was to save men, given in John 3:15; Joh_16:1-33, is here emphasized. It was His sole object.
1. This is an important reminder to all engaged in promulgating the kingdom, of the spirit which should actuate them (Luke 9:55-56).
2. An invitation of men’s confidence in the gracious intentions of God Isaiah 55:8-9). (A. J. Parry.)
The scene referred to
Not long ago I saw a picture of this by Guido. In the foreground strong men were writhing in the death agony; some are pallid in death; some hopelessly lifting eyes, bloodshot and ghastly, to the sacred emblem at the right hand of the picture, and already a new life throbs within them; joy flushes the countenance with unexpected hues of health. But in the centre is a mother, despair in her eye, lifting her babe with both hands, that it may gaze on the saving sight. Why does not the child look up? All! it is too far gone; the deadly bite has penetrated to the central springs; it hangs its head; it droops; it will not look; it gives one throe of anguish, and dies in the mother’s uplifted hands. Oh! the unutterable pathos of that mother’s look! Often, alas! do parents, teachers, pastors, hold up their dear charge, with agonizing solicitude, before the Saving Sight, without saving results. But the fault lies not with God, but with you. (A. Wilson, B. A.)
The agony of sin
What a moment of agony and terror it must have been as all around unfortunate victims were being attacked with these messengers of death. Young and old, rich and poor; for with them there was no respect of persons. On all sides you might see the Israelites writhing in mortal pains. You might hear the mother’s agonized screams as the poisonous reptile fastened its fangs in her darling’s breast. See that strong man tottering along; he has just been bitten. A moment ago he was in full health and strength, but now the deadly venom is flowing through his veins, and he is a dead man already. In this terrible emergency the people cried unto God, and Moses was instructed to make a serpent of brass and set it on a pole, and whosoever looked on this should live. (W. M. H. Aitken.)
To this day a mottled snake, with fiery red spots upon its head, abounds at certain seasons in the Arabah. It is the dread of the fishermen, and is peculiarly dangerous to the bare-legged, sandalled Bedouin. So inflammable is its bite, that it is likened to fire coming through the veins; so intense its venom, and so rapid its action, that the bite is fatal in a few hours. The body swells with a fiery eruption; the tongue is consumed with thirst; and the poor wretch writhes in agony till death brings’ relief. This horrible pest suddenly appeared in the camp of Israel in prodigious numbers. From crevices in the rocks, from holes in the sand, from beneath the scanty herbage, these fiery-headed snake-demons swarmed into every tent. There was no running away from them, and killing seemed hardly to diminish their numbers. On every side there was a cry of anguish; men, women, children, racked with the fiery torture; none able to save or even to help another. “And much of the children of Israel Numbers 21:6).
The serpent’s bite
Some of you recollect the case of Gurling, one of the keepers of the reptiles in the Zoological Gardens, in October, 1852. This unhappy man was about to part with a friend who was going to Australia, and he must needs drink with him. He went back to his post in an excited state. He had some months before seen an exhibition of snake-charming, and this was on his poor muddled brain. He must emulate the Egyptians, and play with serpents. First he took out of its cage a Morocco venom-snake, put it round his neck, twisted it about, and whirled it round about him. Happily for him it did not arouse itself so as to bite. The assistant-keeper cried out, “For God’s sake put back the snake!” but the foolish man replied, “I am inspired.” Putting back the venom.snake, he exclaimed, “Now for the cobra.” This deadly serpent was somewhat torpid with the cold of the previous night, and therefore the rash man placed it in his bosom till it revived, and glided downward till its head appeared below the back of his waistcoat. He took it by the body, about a foot from the head, and then seized it lower down by the other hand, intending to hold it by the tail and swing it round his head. He held it for an instant opposite to his face, and like a flash of lightning the serpent struck him between the eyes. The blood streamed down his face, and he called for help, but his companion fled in horror. When assistance arrived Gurling was sitting on a chair, having restored the cobra to its place. He said, “I am a dead man.” They took him to the hospital. First his speech went, then his vision failed him, and lastly his hearing. His pulse gradually sank, and in one hour from the time at which he had been struck he was a corpse. There was only a little mark upon the bridge of his nose, but the poison spread over the body, and he was a dead man. I tell you that story that you may use it as a parable and learn never to play with sin, and also to bring vividly before you what it is to be bitten by a serpent. Suppose that Curling could have been cured by looking at a piece of brass, would it not have been good news for him? There was no remedy for that poor infatuated creature, but there is a remedy for you. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A beautiful legend
is related respecting a scene in the camp of the Israelites at the time of the setting up of the brazen serpent. A woman had been bitten, and was lying in her tent, while the poison was doing its deadly work on her system. It was the day and the hour when the serpent of brass was to be set up in the camp; but such headway had the poison made that it seemed likely that in that case it would prove too late. But the image was at length raised; and the two daughters of the dying woman brought her to the door of the tent, with her face turned towards the image, when apparently swooning in death; the image of the brazen serpent fell upon her eyes, and she was healed. (D. Curry, D. D.)
“The serpent eternal life”
It is a noteworthy fact that in many of the ethnic religions the serpent was adored as a symbol of life. Horapollon, explaining (wrongly) a particular Egyptian hieroglyph, remarks that among the ancient Egyptians a serpent with its tail in its mouth was a symbol of eternity. The ordinary word for eternity in Egyptian begins with a figure of a serpent. This ancient symbolism, which leaves its traces also in the classics, may have owed something of its origin to the fact of the apparent renewal of the serpent’s life when it awakens from its dormant condition, and when it casts its old skin. The adoration of AEsculapius, the Greek god of healing, was always connected with serpent worship. In the chief temple at Epidaurus tame serpents had a place of honour; and the god was said frequently to take the form of a serpent when he appeared to men. In the third century before Christ the help of AEsculapius was invoked by the Romans to avert a pestilence. In response, AEsculapius is said to have appeared in the form of a serpent, to have gone on board the Roman ship, and when the ship arrived in the Tiber to have glided over the side and to have taken possession of an island, where a temple was erected to him. It will be remembered also that Cadmus was changed into a serpent at his own request, when he discovered that serpents were dear to the gods. Among the Arabs the serpent is still the living thing of living things. This is seen in their ordinary speech. The Arabic word for “life “ is haya; a common word for a serpent is hayyat, a plural form from hayya, a living thing. When Moses, therefore, lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, it would be recognized by the Jews as a symbol of that life which God had promised to give to those who would look to it in faith. To them it was a most natural symbol; when it ceased to be a mere symbol, and became an object of idolatrous worship, it was destroyed. (Sunday School Times.)
Jesus lifted up
During the American Civil War there was a man on one of the boat-loads of wounded from the field who was very low and in a kind of stupor. He was entirely unknown. Mr. Moody called him by different names, but could get no response. At last, at the name “William,” the man unclosed his eyes and looked up, and revived. He was asked if he was a Christian. He said, “No,” but manifested great anxiety upon the subject. “I am so great a sinner that I can’t be a Christian.” Mr. Moody told him he would read what Christ said about that, so turning to St. John’s third chapter he read, “And 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 everlasting life,” etc. “Stop!” said the dying man; “read that over again, will you?” It was read again. “Is that there?” “Yes,” said Mr. Moody; “that’s there just as I read it to you.” “And did Christ say that?” “Yes.” The man began repeating the words, settling back upon his pillow as he did so, with a strange, solemn look of peace on his face. He took no further notice of what was going on about him, but continued repeating the blessed words till Mr. Moody left him. The next morning when the soldier’s place was visited it was found empty. Mr. Moody asked if any one knew aught about him during the night. A nurse who had spent the hours with him till he died, replied, “All the time I was with him he was repeating something about Moses lifting up a serpent in the wilderness. I asked him if there was anything I could do for him, but he only answered, ‘As Moses lifted up the serpent.’ Just before he died, about midnight, I saw his lips moving, though there was no sound escaping. I thought he might have some dying message for home, so I asked him for one. But the only answer was the whispered words, ‘As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in Him--’ and so on until his voice died away, and his lips moved no longer.” (D. L. Moody.)
Looking at Christ
Mr. Barnes, of the Jewish Mission, Mildmay, London, said: “I was visiting in a Jewish neighbourhood in the East End of London, and called upon a Jewess, whom I had known for a long time as a very hard-hearted unbeliever in Jesus Christ. I did not know what to say to her; in fact, I had given her up as almost hopeless. When, however, I called on this occasion she said, ‘I love Jesus, I have got Jesus now as my Saviour.’ I said, ‘You have! How came you to love Jesus?’ ‘Well,’ she said, ‘I will tell you. You know my little girl attends your school, and she comes home and sings the hymns you teach her. She has been singing a good deal lately, “There is life for a look at the Crucified One.” She kept on singing and singing, and at last it broke my heart, and I wondered, is it true there is life for a look. I have been induced to search the Bible, and I believe Jesus is now my Saviour.”
Describing the artistic glories of the Church of St. Mark at Venice, Mr. Ruskin says: “Here are all the successions of crowded imagery showing the passions and the pleasures of human life symbolized together and the mystery of its redemption; for the maze of interwoven lines and changeful pictures lead always at last to the cross, lifted and carved in every place and upon every stone; sometimes with the serpent of eternity wrapped round it, sometimes with doves beneath its arms and sweet herbage growing forth from its feet; but conspicuous most of all on the great rood that crosses the church before the altar, raised in bright blazonry against the shadow of the apse. It is the Cross that is first seen and always burning in the centre of the temple; and every dome and hollow of its roof has the figure of Christ in the utmost height of it, raised in power, or returning in judgment.”
Saved by a sight of Christ
“I have seen Jesus.” This was the saying of a half-witted man, who had turned away from living a very wicked life, when he was asked what had led to this great change. The late Dr. Bushnell, of Hartford, Connecticut, tells this story. He was well acquainted with the person to whom it refers. In addition to his being naturally weak-minded, he had fallen into very wicked ways. He swore dreadfully; he was a confirmed drunkard; he would tell lies, and steal, and do almost anything that was sinful. At one time there was a revival of religion in connection with Dr. Bushnell’s church. Among others who came to see the doctor then with the earnest inquiry, What must we do to be saved? was this weak-minded, wicked man. Thoughtless people, when they saw him going to church, supposed he was only going in mockery, and to make sport of it. And even serious Christians looked on him with pity, and rather wished he would not come. But when Dr. Bushnell came to converse with him he found him so earnest, and apparently so sincere, that he did not hesitate to receive him into the communion of the church. And the whole course of the poor man’s life after this showed that the doctor was right in doing so. From that time onward everything about the man showed that “old things had passed away” with him, “and all things had become new.” He became an humble and consistent follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. All his bad habits were given up. He never drank intoxicating liquor again. A profane word was never heard from his lips. He was truthful and honest; regular in attending church; diligent in reading the Bible, and faithful in practising what it taught. To those who had known him in former years this change seemed wonderful. And when he was asked by some one to tell what it was which had led to it, his answer was, in the words already quoted, “I have seen Jesus.” This explained it all. (D. Newton.)
We are saved by looking to Christ
As a general rule, self-contemplation is a power towards mischief. The only way to grow is to look out of one’s self. There is too much introversion among Christians. A shipmaster might as well look down into the hold of his ship for the north star as a Christian look down into his own heart for the Sun of Righteousness. Out and beyond is the shining. (H. W. Beecher.)
We must look away from ourselvesfor peace
Did you ever hear of a captain of a vessel driven about by rough winds who wanted anchorage and tried to find it on board his vessel? He desires to place his anchor somewhere on board the ship where it will prove a hold-fast. He hangs it at the prow, but still the ship drives; he exhibits the anchor upon deck, but that does not hold the vessel; at last he puts it down into the hold; but with no better success. Why, man alive, anchors do not hold as long as they are on board a ship. They must be thrown into the deep, and then they will get a grip of the sea-bottom, and hold the vessel against wind and tide. As long as ever you have confidence in yourselves you are like a man who keeps his anchor on board his boat, and you will never come to a resting-place. Over with your faith into the great deeps of eternal love and power, and trust in the infinitely faithful One. Then shall you be glad because your heart is quiet. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Dr. Bonar, of Scotland, tells a story of a lady getting into conversation with a workman, and, finding he was a happy Christian, “How long have you been thus rejoicing?” she asked. “Six months ago,” he said, “I heard an address from the words, ‘Whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.’ I could not take it to myself, then,” he said, “but when I went home that night I dreamt that ‘whosoever’ meant me. I got out of bed, and got the Bible to see the word, and there it was, ‘whosoever.’“ “But you knew it was in the Bible, didn’t you?” “Yes, but I wanted to see it with my own eyes, and I’ve been resting on it ever since.” Whosoever:--“Years ago a young woman married, contrary to the advice of her friends, an ungodly man. She was not long in finding out that she was unequally yoked, and much misery followed. Her husband’s mother had given him a Bible, which was put away in a napkin and never looked at. Ten years later sickness overtook him, and the end was evidently fast approaching. One day when his wife had gone into the harvest field, and he was sitting alone in the house, the thought came to him, ‘What a fool I’ve been! Here my life is nearly gone, and I’ve lived it without God and without hope.’ Shortly afterwards his little boy came home from school, and the father sent the lad to look for the Bible. The boy brought it down and read part of John 3:1-36. to his father, and managed to read the little words, but when he came to the longer word ‘whosoever,’ in John 3:16., he stumbled at it, and said, I can’t read that; I don’t know what it spells.’ ‘Why, boy,’ said the father, ‘you should know that word, because all may turn upon its meaning.’ So the boy ran out to ask a traveller who happened to be passing what it meant, while the father sat at the open window. The traveller answered to the boy’s inquiry, ‘The word who-so-ever means anybody and everybody.’ The words fell on the ear of the listening father, and he said to himself, ‘Anybody, everybody. Why that includes me.’ It was the very message he needed. He left his burden of sin with the great sin-bearer, and became a new creature in Christ Jesus.”
Heaven is everlasting
“What is wanting here?” said a courtier to his sovereign, with whom he was riding, amid the acclamations and splendour of a triumphal procession. “Continuance,” replied the monarch. “So say I,” adds Mr. James. “Tell me, if you will, of your youth, your health, the buoyancy of your spirits, your happy connections, your gay parties, your elegant pleasures, your fair prospects, and then ask me what is wanting. I reply, ‘Continuance.’ A single day may spoil everything; before to-morrow’s sun shall rise you may be attacked by disease and death.” (Biblical Museum.)
Looking and finding rest
“At last one snowy day, it snowed so much that I could not go to the place I had determined upon, and I was obliged to stop on the road; I found rather an obscure street, and turned down a court, and there was a little chapel. It was the Primitive Methodist Chapel. I had heard of these people from many, and how they sang so loudly that they made people’s heads ache; but that did not matter. I wanted to know how I might be saved, and if they made my head ache ever so much I did not care. So, sitting down, the service went on, but no minister came (the snowstorm made him late). At last a very thin-looking man came into the pulpit, opened his Bible, and read these words, ‘Look unto him, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.’ Just setting his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart, he said, ‘Young man you are in trouble.’ Well I was, sure enough. Says he, ‘You will never get out of it till you look to Christ.’ And then lifting up his hands he cried out, ‘Look! look! look! It is only look,’ said he. I saw at once the way of salvation. Oh, how I did leap for joy at that moment! I know not what else he said, I did not take much notice of it. I was so possessed with that one thought. Like as when the brazen serpent was lifted up, they only looked and were healed. I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard this word, ‘Look!’ what a charming word it seemed to me! Oh, I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away; and in heaven I will look on still in my joy unutterable.” (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Looking and trusting
I once told my little Willie to jump off a high table, and I would catch him. But he looked down and said, “Papa, I’se afraid.” I again told him I would catch him; but he looked down and said, “Papa, I’se afraid.” You smile, but that is just the way with the unbeliever. He looks down, and dares not trust the Lord. You would say that would be blind faith, but I say it would not be. I told Willie to look at me and then jump, and he did it, and was delighted. He wanted to jump again, and finally his faith became so great that he would jump when I was eight or ten feet away, and cry out, “Papa, I’se a comin’.” (D. L. Moody.)
Joy comes by looking unto Jesus
“Then was Christian glad and lightsome, and said with a merry heart, ‘He has given me rest by sorrow, and life by His death.’ Then he stood awhile to look and wonder; for it was very surprising to him that the sight of the Cross should thus ease him of his burden. He looked, therefore, and looked again, even till the springs that were in his head sent the water down his cheeks. Now as he stood looking and weeping, behold three shining ones came to him, and saluted him with ‘Peace be to thee;’ so the first said to him, ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee;’ the second stripped him of his rags, and clothed him with change of raiment; the third also set a mark on his forehead, and gave him a roll with a seal on it, which he bid him look on as he ran, and that he should give it in at the celestial gate; so they went their way.” (Pilgrim’s Progress.)
Looking brings life
If we look upon Christ with the eye though of a weak faith, we shall be saved. Dr. Cneciger when he lay a-dying cried out, “Credo languida fide, sed tamen fide.” I believe with a weak faith, but with a faith such as it is. (J. Trapp.)
God so loved the world, that He gave His-only begotten Son
The gospel in brief
Pliny declares that Cicero once saw the Iliad of Homer written in so small a character that it could be contained in a nutshell.
Peter Bales, a celebrated caligrapher, in the days of Queen Elizabeth, wrote the whole Bible so that it was shut up in a common walnut as its casket. In these days of advanced mechanism even greater marvels in miniature have been achieved, but never has so much meaning been compressed into so small a space as in that famous little word “So,” in the text. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The text gives a deeper insight into the Divine character than the heavens which declare God’s glory and than those tender mercies of His providence which are over all His works.
I. THE DIVINE LOVE.
1. Its marvellousness. The world is
2. Its universality.
II. The Divine Gift. He could give nothing dearer or greater. Some may excel others in kindness; but God’s love is such that in its manifestation it cannot possibly be exceeded. Christ is His unspeakable gift. He gave His Son.
1. To a humbling incarnation.
2. To a laborious servitude.
3. To an ignominious and sacrificial death.
III. THE DIVINE DESIGN.
1. What God wants to do.
2. The condition upon which He will do it. Faith in His Son. (Mortlock Daniell.)
A triple ray of Gospel light
Here are three great testimonies like the three primary colours which make one white beam.
I. LIGHT UPON THE CHARACTER OF GOD.
1. God loves. The Indian or Chinese will not let you say God loves. It is an impeachment of His dignity and argues need. In a profound sense, however, of yearning for protection, of appreciating the souls of men, of finding a necessity for seeing them blessed, in the sense of pity, mercy, self-effacement, God loves. Had we said this it would have been a marvellous testimony; much more so had Paul or John said it. But love on the lips of Christ has a thousandfold more meaning.
2. God loves the world, the unregenerate world, as a mother loves her wayward no less than her worthy child, though the love be broken-hearted grief. So God loves the rebellious.
3. God loves the world with a distributive affection reaching the “whosoerers.”
4. God loves it with an affection so deep, self-effacing, self-sacrificing, as to give His only begotten Son. Love is ever giving, and the love of God says not of aught it possesses that it is its own. He keeps not His child. See, then, here in the first line of the Gospel that
II. LIGHT UPON CHRIST. What a problem has Christ been! The generations have never been able to forget Him. Men have never given Him a small name. The estimates of foes have betrayed their sense of His greatness, and the adoration of friends has lost itself in the endeavour to express it. Who is He? The ages have been a wrestling Jacob whose question has been, What is Thy name? Ask Himself.
1. The only begotten Son of God. The Son is of the nature of the Father--Divine in a sense no other being is. All the Divine fulness of the Godhead is in Him. And His life matches His name.
2. The gift of God: the property of each soul of man. There is no tie which has knit Him to our hearts that He has not knit. He takes our nature, conditions, duties, temptations, sorrows, curse, death. Ours
3. The Saviour. Only Christ has borne this great name. Mohammed is prophet; Buddha is teacher only; Jesus is Saviour. A name
III. LIGHT ON MAN. Low views of God go together with low views of man. You cannot lose your faith in God without losing your faith in man. Here we see
1. God loves each man, therefore each man is lovable; no heart without a beauty in it that charms the eye of God; no life without some possibility of glory in it which attracts His love.
2. We are capable of faith. There is a Divine dignity in man which lets him lift himself up to God and entrust himself into His arms, and put himself wholly under His guidance and in His power.
3. We are capable of everlasting life. Philosophy as we know it today is a theory of the graveyard only. If we cast away the Lord of life we have to believe in a destiny that is only a tomb. Christ has come that we might have everlasting life. (R. Glover.)
The love of God
I. THE FOUNTAIN OF GRACE IN GOD’S UNSPEAKABLE LOVE.
1. object. The world: man in his corrupt and miserable state (John 5:19).
2. The act.. The love of God is
3. The degree--“So.” We are not told how much. It is to be conceived rather than spoken of; admired rather than conceived.
Observe from all this
1. That love is at the bottom of all. We may give a reason for other things, but not for this love (Deuteronomy 7:7-8; Matthew 11:26).
2. Love is visible in the progress and perfection of our salvation in Christ Romans 5:8). Light is not more conspicuous in the sun.
3. If there were any other cause it must be either
The uses of all this.
1. To confute all misapprehensions of God. Satan tempts us to view God as unlovely or to entertain unworthy thoughts of His mercy. But this shows us that He is fuller of love than the sea is of water.
2. To quicken our admiration of the love of God in Christ. Three things commend any favour done us.
3. To exhort us
II. THE WAY GOD TOOK TO EXPRESS HIS LOVE. There is a twofold giving of Christ.
1. For us (Romans 8:32). This mightily bespeaks God’s love and care for our salvation. In creation God made us after His own image; in redemption Christ was made after ours. This was the most convenient way to bring about His purposes of grace
(a) By His humanity He taught men by doctrine and example.
(b) By His dying He satisfied the justice of God, and so made a way for the course of His mercy to us (Romans 3:25-26).
(c) By His resurrection, which was a visible satisfaction to the world that His sacrifice was accepted (Romans 4:25).
(d) By His ascension the truth of eternal life was more confirmed.
2. To us.
(a) The image of God. This is restored by Christ, who is the pattern 2 Corinthians 3:18) and author (Titus 3:5-6). Till we are in Him we have not this great benefit (2 Corinthians 5:17).
(b) The favour of God which Christ died to recover (2 Corinthians 5:17).
(c) Fellowship with God (Genesis 3:24; cf. Ephesians 3:12; Hebrews 4:16).
The use of all this is
1. To confute the world’s opinion who measure God’s love by outward things.
2. To excite us to bless God for Jesus Christ (Romans 7:25; 1 Corinthians 15:57).
III. THE END OF THIS LOVE. Notice
1. The connection of our duty and privilege. We believe: God gives.
2. The universality of the proposal.
3. The condition.
4. The benefits negatively and positively considered. (T. Manton, D. D.)
The love of God
What subject can be so interesting as this? The gospel in general is a record of the love of God, but there the only begotten Son from the bosom of the Father gives us an epitome of the whole.
I. ITS OBJECT. If God so loved the world, then
1. He loved those who deserved no such love.
2. He loved those who could do nothing to purchase or to procure it.
3. He loved those by whom it was unsolicited and undesired.
4. He must manifest it in a way worthy of Himself.
II. ITS MANNER. He loved in a way worthy of Himself, and bestowed a gift which proved its greatness.
1. The supreme dignity and worth of the gift--“His Son” in a sense in which no other being is. Angels are sons because God has created them; Christians because God has adopted them. But Christ is God’s Son by eternal generation; Son in such a sense that He can say of the Father, “I and My Father are one,” and that the Father can say of Him, “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever.”
2. The relation in which the gift stood to the Giver. He was one in whom the Father delighted, not as in a creature with a limited affection, but with a boundless complacency.
3. Does not this teach us that a less valuable gift could not expiate human crime, and that no other price could have been accepted. Had Christ’s teaching, example, etc., been sufficient His blood would not have been shed. But “without shedding of blood is no remission.”
4. The only begotten Son so loved the world that He gave Himself. The allegation that if Christ suffered under compulsion it were unjust is true. But Christ was Divine, and therefore independent, and consequently cannot be compelled to suffer. Hence He says, “I delight to do Thy will.” “No man taketh My life from Me.”
III. ITS END. It was glorious and justified the means--the salvation of the world. But this great benefit is not dispensed indiscriminately. There must be a cordial acceptance of God’s plan. Two ideas:
1. That of credence. Jesus must be believed to be what the record declares Him to be.
2. But such credence of this testimony that it is accepted by us, and that there is a personal reliance on Christ for salvation. It is with the heart man believeth unto righteousness.
3. Nor is this one act merely; it is an act repeated till a habit is formed, a habit which gives a distinctive denomination to the person--“believer.”
4. This salvation through faith is negative and positive.
1. “God so loved the world.” Then
2. Has God so loved the world as to give, etc.? Then
God’s love and its gift
I. THE LOVE OF GOD.
1. If God so loved this guilty world, then what an unplumbed depth of grace must have been in His heart! For the object of His love is not the world in its first condition when He pronounced it “very good,” but the world ruined by sin and condemned for apostasy. There would have been no wonder had the world been drowned. Yet without any change in our claims or character He loved us. And this love is not a mere relenting which might lead to a respite, or simple regret which might end in a sigh. There is no merit in loving what is lovely. There is nothing about man but his misery to attract the Divine attachment. Man’s sin is not his misfortune, but his fault. And the marvel is there is nothing God hates so much as sin, and yet no one He loved so much as the sinner.
2. If God so loved this little world, then surely His love is disinterested. This orb is truly a “little one,” yet it has called out emotion, which mightier spheres had failed to elicit.
3. If God loved this fallen world and not the world of fallen angels His love must be sovereign. “Be not high minded, but fear.” God spared not the angels that sinned, and if thou art spared thou hast no reason to boast.
4. The fervour and mightiness of this love arrest our attention--“so.”
II. THE GIFT OF GOD’S LOVE. We estimate the value of a gift by various criteria.
1. The resources of the giver. Our Lord declared that the poor widow gave truly more than the wealthy worshippers.
2. The motives of the giver. One may heap favours on a fallen foe to wound his pride.
3. The manner. If it be withheld until wrung out, or if it be offered in a surly spirit, it sinks at once in importance below the lesser boon offered in frank and spontaneous sympathy.
4. The condition of the recipient--whether rich or needy, and in what degree of need, and the extent to which the gift is adapted to him.
Now let the love of God be tested by these criteria.
1. The resources of the Giver are infinite; but in the donation of Christ you see the limits of possibility. If Christ be God what gift superior can be presented? or if He be the Son of God what richer love could be exhibited?
2. God’s motives were perfectly unselfish.
3. His gift is the only one that could have profited us.
4. What adaptation there is in it to man’s dire need I
III. THE DESIGN OF GOD’S LOVE.
1. To rescue man from perishing.
2. To confer upon man the boon of everlasting life.
3. To do this for all who believe:
The love of God
I. THE OBJECT OF THIS LOVE. The world--not a part of it. The same reasons upon which His love of individuals is justified will justify His love to all.
II. ITS NATURE.
(10) It was universal.
III. THE REASON FOR THIS WONDERFUL MEASURE OF THE DIVINE GOVERNMENT. Mankind had resisted this government. If God had seemed to connive at this, all other beings might have denied the justice of the law and disobeyed it also. What must be done? God’s relation to the universe demanded of Him either to execute the law or to make demonstration of His estimation of the law. It is easy to see that the honour of the law might be fully sustained by God Himself if He should show before the whole universe His approbation of the law. If God would take upon Himself human nature, and in this nature would stand right out before the universe, and obey the law and suffer its penalty, the law would be perfectly honoured. This was what was done in Christ. (Prof. Finney.)
The love of God
I. How was JESUS GIVEN BY THE FATHER?
1. By His designation and appointment unto death (Acts 2:23; Isaiah 42:1).
2. In parting with Him and setting Him at some distance from Himself for a John 16:28; Psalms 22:1-2).
3. In delivering Him into the hands of justice to be punished (Romans 8:32).
4. In the application of Him with all the purchases of His blood, and settling all this upon us as an inheritance (John 6:32-33; John 4:10).
II. HOW THIS GIFT WAS THE HIGHEST, FULLEST MANIFESTATION OF THE LOVE OF GOD THAT EVER THE WORLD SAW. This will be evidenced if you consider
1. How near and dear Christ was to the Father (Colossians 1:13).
2. To what He gave Him (Luke 22:22).
3. That in giving Christ He gave the richest jewel in His cabinet.
4. On whom the gift was bestowed.
5. The freeness of the gift (1 John 4:19).
1. The exceeding preciousness of souls (1 Peter 1:18; Matthew 16:26).
2. Those for whom God gave His own Son may warrantably expect any other mercy from Him (Romans 8:32; 1 Corinthians 3:20-21).
3. If the greatest love hath been manifested in the gift of Christ, then the greatest evil and wickedness is manifested in rejecting Him (Hebrews 2:2-4). (J. Flavel.)
The love of God
I. GOD IS LOVE.
1. It is singular. He first loved.
2. It is personal.
3. It is compassionate. He pities the souls that sin has ruined.
4. It is comprehensive. It extends to all mankind.
II. ITS EXPRESSION.
1. In the gift. This includes
III. ITS RESULTS. It is implied
1. That all are lost.
2. That none need perish; and
3. That whosoever believeth in Him hath everlasting life.
IV. WE LIVE IN THE GLORIOUS DAY OF SALVATION! This should be the tidings of great joy to all people. The return of Christmas should revive our hope and rekindle our zeal to spend and be spent in the Master’s service. (L. O.Thompson.)
The love of God
I. LOVE IN ITS GRANDEST SOURCE.
1. God can love and does love. We must beware of making God only an infinite man; yet love in Him must be the same in kind as love in us.
2. Love is more than a Divine attribute. It is as light of which all the attributes are colours.
3. How near this brings Him to our hearts. We admire other qualities; we only love the loving.
4. The Scripture represents everywhere this love as the fountain of redemption.
II. LOVE IN ITS PUREST FORM. It had nothing to attract it and everything to repel it.
1. The world was perishing; it was therefore not complacent, but compassionating love. It is one thing to help the happy and prosperous and another to succour the needy and miserable.
2. The world was guilty. It is harder to love those who add unworthiness to distress. Moral excellence may attract compassion to the wretched, but moral vileness disgusts. But “God commendeth His love,” etc.
3. The world was at enmity with God. That love is purest which withstands provocations and does good to the injurious. “When we were enemies we were reconciled,” etc.
4. The world’s misery and peril were caused by itself. It is always a sore strain on mercy when solicited for the wilful. How natural the reply: “It serves you right”! God says, “Thou hast destroyed thyself, but in Me is thy help.”
III. Love IN ITS GREATEST STRENGTH That is a poor philanthropy which can pity without helping: but “the philanthropy of God appeared” in action. Love is as deeds, not words, desires, or feelings.
1. The love of God was practical in the most costly way. The test of love is sacrifice; the criterion of its strength is the measure of the sacrifice. The Cross was the self-denial of God.
2. Of all sacrifices the chief are those of persons. The highest sphere of value is in persons, not things, although the latter may be very precious.
3. God sacrificed the highest of all persons.
IV. Love IN ITS LOFTIEST PURPOSE. No purpose could be greater. We know the worth of life. “All that a man hath will he give for his life.” It is the condition of all else that is prized. Salvation is life, not in figure, but in fact. There is a life of the flesh, of the soul, and of the spirit. This life in all its perfection is the end of God. Beginning in the finest portion of our nature it will spread and strengthen until it possesses the whole of it. Man redeemed and renewed is to live to the utmost of his capacity of life. This life is “everlasting.” Sin brought death and separated from the tree of life: Christ restored access to it.
V. LOVE IN ITS WIDEST SPHERE. The “world” is not here used in a restrictive sense. It would be difficult to believe, did not facts prove it, that any could be so blinded as to make “the world” signify the Church. For the fact is, whenever the “world” is applied to a portion of mankind it always means the wicked. Wherever there is a man in the way to perish, there is the world God loved. There is nothing in the love or sacrifice of the Father and the Son to prevent the whole world being saved. God loved without limit of nation or condition. Conclusion:
1. You have here a pattern and spring of love. “Be imitators of God as dear children.” “If God loved us,” etc.
2. What a gospel--good news--is here! God loves you now in spite of all your sins and follies. The only title to love is to be “perishing”; the only condition of its blessings is to “believe.”
3. The subject casts a shadow by its very brightness on your unbelief, state, prospects. (A. J. Morris.)
The love of God
This affectionate compassion is set forth
I. BY COMPARISON OF THE PARTIES LOVING AND LOVED. God most high and holy loved the base and wicked world.
II. BY THE MEASURE OF IT. He so loved, that is, so infinitely, so transcendently, so incomprehensibly (Hebrews 12:3). Such as cannot be sufficiently expressed or conceived (1 John 3:1).
III. BY THE FRUIT OF HIS LOVE. It was no lip love, but a giving love. Yea, but some things are not worth the giving, therefore
IV. BY THE WORTHINESS OF THE EXIT--His only begotten Son. And that to stand in our stead, and to die on the cross for us (John 3:14). Yea, but though never so excellent a gift be given, yet if it be not of use and profit to whom it is given, it doth not so testify love. Therefore
V. It is set forth by THE BENEFIT THAT COMES TO US BY IT.
1. Not perishing.
2. Having eternal life. But perhaps though this gift brings so great profit, yet they to whom it is given must take some great and extraordinary pains to get it, and then God’s love is not so great. Therefore
VI. It is set forth BY THE EASINESS OF THE MEANS whereby we are possessed of the profit of this gift, “That whosoever believeth.” Yet if this so worthy a gift, of such invaluable worth to the enjoyer, had been restrained to some few sorts of men, the matter had not been so much. Therefore
VII. It is set forth BY THE UNIVERSALITY, that whosoever, be he what he will, so he will but reach forth his hand to take this gift, he shall have it, and all the comfort of it. (J. Dyke.)
The Divine love
I. IN ITS SOURCE. God loved the world.
1. In its guilt, therefore His love was a love of benevolence. He could not take delight in it, but He did wish it well.
2. In its depravity. Therefore His love is self-moved--the world not as made by God, but as ruined by the devil; consequently there was nothing in it to attract the Divine love.
3. The world, not hell, consequently His love was sovereign-free as opposed to necessary. He could have loved fallen angels had such been His pleasure. But “He took not hold on angels, but the seed of Abraham.” Why? “Even so, Father; for so it seemed good in Thy sight.”
II. IN ITS MANIFESTATION, in
1. The birth or incarnation of Jesus Christ (1 John 4:9). This did not engender or excite His love, it only manifested it.
2. In His death or atonement (1 John 4:10). The Divine love is not the effect, but the cause. The gods of heathenism received but never gave sacrifices.
3. In the Person of the only begotten Son of God.
III. IN ITS DESIGN.
1. It has in view the salvation of every individual.
2. It offers to every individual the supremest, most precious blessing God Himself can bestow.
3. It offers the supremest blessings on the easiest, cheapest terms. God the Father had a great deal to do, and God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost; but man has nothing to do but to believe. (J. Cynddylan Jones, D. D.)
I. IN THE GIFT. Men who love much will give much. Little love forgets to bring water for the feet, but great love breaks its box of alabaster. Consider
1. What this gift was. The Father’s other self. What more could He give? Could you fathers give your sons to die for your enemy?
2. How God gave it: not as you, to some honourable pursuit in which you would not be deprived altogether of your son’s company, but as an exile to be born in a manger, to toil as a carpenter, and to die as a felon.
3. When He gave: for there is love in the time.
II. IN THE PLAN OF SALVATION. What is it to believe in Jesus?
1. To give your firm and cordial assent to the truth of the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ.
2. To accept this for yourself. In Adam’s sin you did not sin personally, but by committing personal transgression you laid your hand upon it and made it your own. In like manner you must accept and appropriate the atonement of Jesus.
3. Personal trust.
III. IN THE PERSONS FOR WHOM THIS PLAN IS AVAILABLE. God did not so love the world that any man that does not believe in Jesus shall be saved. “Whosoever believeth.”
1. From the moralist to the utterly vile; from the greyheaded sinner to the boy or maiden.
2. It encircles all degrees of faith.
IV. IN THE DELIVERANCE. Whosoever believes shall not perish, though he is ready to perish. To perish is to lose all hope in Christ, all trust in God, all light in life, all peace in death, all joy.
V. In THE POSSESSION. God gives to every man that believes in Christ everlasting life. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God’s love for the world
I. THE DIVINE LOVE--WHAT IT IS.
1. The essence of His nature.
2. All His attributes are modifications and manifestations of His love.
3. His law, the order of creation, the arrangement of His providence are expressions of His love.
4. Love is the ground of His perfect happiness.
II. THE SPECIAL FRUIT OF THE DIVINE LOVE. IN THE GIFT OF CHRIST.
1. The origin of Christ’s mission was the love of God.
2. God gave His Son.
3. The relationship between the Father and the Son is the measure of the Divine love.
III. THE RECIPIENTS OF THIS GIFT.
1. Not the “elect” world, which God loves with the love of complacency.
2. But the sinful world, which He loves with the love of compassion.
IV. THE OBJECT CONTEMPLATED IN THE BESTOWAL OF THIS GIFT.
1. To prevent dreadful evil.
2. To bestow unspeakable good. (A. Beith, D. D.)
God’s love to the world
This verse is one of the gems of the Bible, a star of the first magnitude. Observe three things.
I. HOW GOD IS AFFECTED TOWARDS THE COSMOS: He loved it.
1. Who is God? The God of the Bible.
2. What is the cosmos? The world of human life.
3. How they stood affected.
4. New and Divine revelation: God is love.
II. HOW GOD MANIFESTED THIS AFFECTION.
1. What He gave--His Son.
2. How He gave.
III. FOR WHAT PURPOSE WAS THIS AFFECTION MANIFESTED.
1. Negatively: that man might not loose himself utterly from God, duty, happiness. Thus was the pity of God manifested.
2. Positively: that man may have life, age during life. (Bible Notes and Queries.)
The love of God in the gift Of a Saviour
These words express the substance of the gospel. No speaker ever had the power of condensing great principles into so narrow a compass as the Lord Jesus.
I. THE PLAN OF SALVATION ORIGINATED IN THE LOVE OF GOD.
1. The idea that God is loving has been doubted or denied.
2. The text teaches that God was originally disposed to show mercy.
II. THE EXPRESSION OF HIS LOVE WAS THE HIGHEST THAT IT COULD POSSIBLY BE.
1. Such a gift as that of His only begotten Son is the highest conceivable gift, and this Christ intends to convey. The Bible represents God as having the attributes of a kind and tender Father. He loves when He says He loves, and is no cold creation of the imagination. When a man bids his son go into the tented field with every prospect of his dying for the welfare of his country, it is the highest expression of his attachment for that country.
2. But no man has ever manifested such a love as God’s. In a few instances a man has sacrificed his life for his friend, and not a few fathers and mothers endangered their lives for their children. But who has ever given the life of his child for an enemy? But “God commendeth,” etc. (A. Barnes, D. D.)
Christ’s mission a revelation of God’s love
I. LOVE IN ITS HIGHEST FORM. Love is a generic term and includes a large number of specific affections. There is a love of friendship, brotherly love, parental love, conjugal love, a love of country or patriotism, and a love of God, or religion. Love is a redeeming quality among the many miseries of our fallen state. It is like the silver ray of sun-light which gleams through the dark cloud when the storm is brewing in the sky. It is like an oasis in the desert, which is a scene of beauty and a home of life amid arid plains doomed to perpetual barrenness. It is like the wood which Moses took and placed in the bitter waters of Mara. It sweetens the cup of human experience. It is the only lasting bond of human society--the only guarantee of the perpetual bliss of heaven, and the only attribute in fallen man which is made an emblem of God, “God is love.” If love in human form and in a fallen world be so Divine, what must it be in God Himself? Love in man is but a ray from the sun; a drop from the ocean.
II. LOVE IN ITS SUBLIMEST MANIFESTATION. The object of my text is not general, but special. It is to assure us that while the love of God may be traced in every object in nature, and read on every page of Providence, as the colours of the rainbow may be found in every ray of silvery sun-light, yet the brightest and the fullest manifestation of it is in the mission of Jesus into the world to save sinners. In considering this subject, we must carefully bear in mind that Jesus Christ was not a mere man, but God who assumed a human form and nature. Few men in the time of the Saviour’s advent had any idea of the love of God. Man’s true happiness must ever be found in God, and in other beings only as they are Godlike. But to find happiness in such a god as that of which the highest conception is realized in the mythology of Greece, the idolatry of Moab, or the dogmas of the Pharisees is out of the question. Jesus, however, came to overturn these errors and fearful misrepresentations of the Deity, and save the world by proving that God was kind and loving, just and faithful, and therefore deserving of men’s love and trust. It is most interesting to study the character of God according to the teaching of Jesus. He represented the Divine Being as a Father who yearned for the return of his prodigal child, welcomed him home, receiving him with open arms and open heart, bidding all his household help him to tell the world his joy, “Rejoice with me, for this my son was dead and is alive again, was lost and is found.” He represented God as the Good Shepherd, who goes after the lost one until it is found, and bears it to His home upon His shoulders with rejoicing. He represented God as the Good Samaritan who saw men lying in their wounds, robbed by sin of hope and heaven, upon the point of death, and came to save them at his own expense.
III. LOVE IN ITS WIDEST FIELD OF OPERATION. This widest field is the world, for “God so loved the world.” It is evident that the text cannot mean merely to assert that God loved and admired the material world or the things of the world, as these need no salvation, and are not capable of being saved, and the love of God to the world, in the text, is said to have special reference to its salvation. As the pious Jew of old rambled among the ruins of his glorious temple, turning over with affection its broken columns, cherishing the very dust and stone thereof; so God in Christ, with His loving heart overflowing with sympathy and affection, seeks to gather the broken fragments of humanity together, and rebuild upon a surer basis the temple of man. As mother, sister, or wife walks in the field of blood after the day of dreadful slaughter, with tears of affection flowing from her eyes, the sigh of sorrow rising from her wounded heart and floating upwards to tell its grief to God, and with tenderness of touch turns over the forms of the dead, that she may press once more to her heart, now broken, the object of her warm affection; so God is represented as amid the carnage which sin has made of us, inspired by the love of which my text is speaking, toiling and labouring and suffering, having come to seek and to save those who were lost. “God so loved the world!” This is the source from which all our blessings flow.
IV. LOVE IN ITS NOBLEST INTENTION.
1. The sad condition of those whom it proposes to affects” should not perish.” The objects of His love are perishing--perishing, not in body but in soul.
2. The glorious state to which the love of God proposes to raise all He found in this sad condition, “but have everlasting life.” Life, even of a temporal character, is of so much value that men toil and labour and manifest the deepest concern, in order, not to perpetuate it, but merely to prolong it for a few years.
3. The simple way in which we may become eternally benefited by this saving work of God, “whosoever believeth in Him.” What an awful curse is unbelief!
4. The impartial manner in which these blessings are offered, “whosoever.” Were man to make a feast, his invitations would not be to every one, for his ability to provide would have a limit. The richest man could not make a feast for all. But God is not man that He should be deficient. (E. Lewis, B. A.)
God’s love for a sinning world
I. SIN IS THE MOST EXPENSIVE THING IN THE UNIVERSE.
1. It is the violation of an infinitely important law--a law designed and adapted to secure the highest good of the universe.
2. As sin is this it cannot be treated lightly. The entire welfare of a government and its subjects turns upon obedience.
3. The law of God must not be dishonoured by anything He shall do. He must stand by it to retrieve its honour.
4. Hence the expense. Either the law must be executed at the expense of the race, or God must suffer the worse results of disrespect to His law, or a substitute be provided who shall both save the sinner and honour the law.
II. HOW SHALL THE EXPENSE BE MET? Who shall head the subscription? The Father made the first donation.
1. He gave His Son to make the atonement due to law.
2. He gave His Spirit to take charge of this work.
III. FOR WHOM WAS THE GREAT DONATION MADE? By the “world” cannot be meant any particular part. The Bible and the nature of the case shows that the atonement must have been made for the whole. Otherwise no man could be sure that it was made for himself.
IV. WHAT PROMPTED GOD TO MAKE IT? Love. This love is
1. Not complacency, or it would have been infinitely disgraceful to Himself.
2. Not mere feeling, as in those who are carried away by strong emotion. But
3. Disinterested: for He had nothing to hope or fear; no profit to make out of the saved.
5. Most self-denying.
6. Universal because particular. God loved each, therefore all.
7. Most patient.
V. THE GIFT OF GOD MUST BE RECEIVED BY FAITH. This is the only possible way, God’s government is moral because the Saviour is a moral agent. Therefore God cannot influence us unless we give Him our confidence. Lessons:
1. Sinners may place themselves beyond the reach of mercy.
2. This involves them in the greatest responsibility.
3. This responsibility can only be discharged and the sinner saved by accepting the donation of Christ.
4. Accepting that donation let us give it to others. (C. G. Finney, D. D.)
God’s wonderful love
I. ITS CHARACTERISTICS.
1. Eternal: “loved.” Who can tell when it began?
2. Compassionate: “the world.”
3. Unspeakable: “so”
II. ITS MANIFESTATION.
III. ITS PURPOSE.
1. Broad: “whosoever.”
2. Limited: “believeth.”
The love of God self-originated
The ocean is always moving, but it is not self-moving. The cause of its movements is outside itself, in the moon, and in the wind. Did the wind and the moon let it alone, the Atlantic would for ever be a pacific ocean, quiet, restful, pellucid as an inland lake; it has no power to heave itself. But as for the shoreless sea of the Divine Love, it has the power to move itself; and it did move itself. It rolled in a grand irresistible current towards the shores of our world. Like the Divine Essence, the Divine Love possesses the power of self-determination. (J. C. Jones, D. D.)
God’s love for sinners
I remember the case of a young man who was afflicted with a frightfully loathsome disease. He had to be kept out of sight. But was he neglected? No. I need not tell you who looked after him. There was not a morning but his loving mother bathed his wounds and swathed his limbs, and not an evening that she wearied in her toil. Do you think she had not natural sensitiveness? I knew her to be as sensitive as any lady; but by so much more as she felt the loathsomeness of her work do you see the love that constantly upheld her in doing it. But oh! what is the loathsomeness of cankered wounds compared with the loathsomeness of sin to God? There is but one thing that God hates, and that is sin. Yet with all His hatred of sin how He hangs over the sinner! (S. Coley.)
The power of God’s love
We often hear of counter currents, but was there ever such a counter current as is implied here! One of the most important and wonderful ocean currents is the Gulf Stream. It takes its rise in the Gulf of Mexico and sweeps across through the heart of the mighty Atlantic to the Arctic Seas; and by its strong currents, more rapid than that of the Mississippi, it engulfs every other ocean stream that comes athwart its course, making it tributary to its own grand mission of washing the shores and ameliorating the climate of the sea-bound countries of Europe. “So God loved the world.” His love is a mighty stream of warm, generous commiseration sweeping with mighty force towards that moral Arctic Sea sin has made of our world. And such was the strength of the current that it swept into its own bosom the mighty stream of God’s love of complacency towards His only begotten Son, so that He was borne on its bosom into this world, where, by suffering and death, He became “the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey Him.” (A. J. Parry)
The love of God
In human governments, justice is central, and love incidental. In the Divine government, love is the central element, and justice only incidental. God wishes to exhaust all means of kindness before His hand takes hold on justice. When the waves of penalty begin to come in in fearful tides, then He banks up against them. His goodness is the levee between justice and the sinful soul. (H. W. Beecher.)
God is love
God is love, and there is a something about love which always wins love. When love puts on her own golden armour, and bears her sword bright with her own unselfishness, she goeth on conquering and to conquer. Let a man once apprehend that God is love, that this is God’s very essence, and he must at once love God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A royal gift
Plutarch, the Greek historian, tells a story to this effect: “ An ancient king once gave a present of a large sum of money to a personal friend, and was gently taken to task for his generosity. ‘What!’ was his astonished exclamation, ‘would you not have me be liberal? Let the world know that when the king gives he gives generously, like a king.’ “Upon this, he made a second present of equal value.
Faith in Christ is certain salvation
We lately read in the papers an illustration of the way of salvation. A man had been condemned in a Spanish court to be shot, but being an American citizen and also of English birth, the consuls of the two countries interposed, and declared that the Spanish authorities had no power to put him to death. What did they do to secure his life when their protest was not sufficient? They wrapped him up in their flags, they covered him with the Stars and Stripes and the Union Jack, and defied the executioners. “Now fire a shot if you dare, for if you do so, you defy the nations represented by those flags, and you will bring the powers of those two great empires upon you.” There stood the man, and before him the soldiery, and though a single shot might have ended his life, yet he was as invulnerable as though encased in triple steel. Even so Jesus Christ has taken my poor guilty soul ever since I believed in Him, and has wrapped around me the blood-red flag of His atoning sacrifice, and before God can destroy me or any other soul that is wrapped in the atonement, He must insult His Son and dishonour His sacrifice, and that He will never do, blessed be His name. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
It is said that some years ago a vessel sailing on the northern coast of the South American continent, was observed to make signals of distress. When hailed by another vessel, they reported themselves as “Dying for water!” “Dip it up then,” was the response, “you are in the mouth of the Amazon river.” There was fresh water all around them, they had nothing to do but to dip it up, and yet they were dying of thirst, because they thought themselves to be surrounded by the salt sea. How often are men ignorant of their mercies? How sad that they should perish for lack of knowledge! Jesus is near the seeker even when he is tossed upon oceans of doubt. The sinner has but to stoop down and drink and live. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
We must believe or perish
When a shipwrecked sailor, left to the mercy of the waves, has no help within reach or view but a spar or mast, how will he cling to it, how firmly he will clasp it--he will hold it as life itself. If a passing billow sweep him from it, with all his might he will make for it again, and grasp it faster than ever. To part is to perish; and so he clings--and how anxiously! So the awakened sinner feels. The ocean of wrath surrounds him; its billows and its waves go over him. Hell yawns beneath to engulf him. The vessel is an utter wreck. All its floating timbers are very rottenness. Oh, how he strains his eye searching for a mast, a plank, a spar! His eye rests on the only hope, the only rock in the wide ocean of wrath, the Rock of Ages, the Lord Jesus. He makes for the Saviour--he clasps Him--he cleaves to Him. Every terror of sin and of unworthiness that strives to loosen his hold only makes him grasp with more terrible and death-like tenacity, for he knows that to part company is to perish. (R. B.Nichol.)
The love of God is a necessity of His own nature
“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” etc. The life and death of Christ was but the working out of the love of God. The affection and the yearning of heart towards His erring creatures was just the same in God before Christ came, that Christ showed it to be while He was on earth. It is just the same still. There is no change in God, or in His love. Man nor woman need fear disappointment there. It has been the custom of some, a custom too much prevailing, to represent God as being under no manner of obligation to do anything for His creatures after they had broken His law. The trouble with this statement is that there is a great deal of truth in it; and yet it has been made in such a manner as to give a very wrong impression. In God’s own nature there is a necessity for His efforts for man’s redemption. (H. W. Beecher.)
The word “so”
Come, ye surveyors, bring your chains, and try to make a survey of this word “so.” Nay, that is not enough. Come hither, ye that make our national surveys, and lay down charts for all nations. Come ye, who map the sea and land, and make a chart of this word “so.” Nay, I must go further. Come hither, ye astronomers, that with your optic glasses spy out spaces before which imagination staggers, come hither and encounter calculations worthy of all your powers! When you have measured between the horns of space, here is a task that will defy you--“God so loved the world.” If you enter into that, you will know that all this love is to you--that while Jehovah loves the world, yet He loves you as much as if there were nobody else in all the world to love. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The glory of the Gospel
It is not like a banquet, accommodated to the tastes and wants of so many and no more. Like a masterpiece of music, its virtues are independent of numbers. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
God’s mercy is free
Let me tell thee that the mercy of God flows freely. It wants no money and no price from thee, no fitness of frames and feelings, no preparation of good works or penitence. Free as the brook which leaps from the mountain side, at which every weary traveller may drink, so free is the mercy of God. Free as the sun that shineth, and gilds the mountain’s brow, and makes glad the valleys without fee or reward, so free is the mercy of God to every needy sinner. Free as the air which belts the earth and penetrates the peasant’s cottage as well as the royal palace without purchase or premium, so free is the mercy of God in Christ. It tarrieth not for thee: it cometh to thee as thou art. It way layeth thee in love; it meeteth thee in tenderness. Ask not how thou shalt get it. Thou needst not climb to heaven, nor descend to hell for it; the word is nigh thee; on thy lip, and in thy heart if thou believest on the Lord Jesus with thy heart, and with thy mouth makest confession of Him, thou shalt be saved.
What is it to perish
What is it to perish? It is to die in our sins, without bright angels to smile upon us as they wait to carry us away from earth; to die without the Saviour’s glorious presence to cheer us in the valley of the shadow of death. It is to be turned away from the shut door of our Father’s mercy, because, like the foolish virgins, we are not ready when the bridegroom comes. To perish is to lose the smile of God, the company of the redeemed, the society of angels, the glories of the heavenly world, and, with no ray of comfort or gleam of hope, to be driven away into outer darkness, into misery and woe, without deliverance and without end. The thought of this awful perdition made Jesus weep over Jerusalem and say, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem: thou that killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not.” (Rev. R. Brewin.)
“Whosoever” has a finger for babes, and an arm for old men; it has an eye for the quick, and a smile for the dull. Young men and maidens, whosoever offers its embrace to you! Good and bad, honourable or disreputable, this “whosoever” speaks to you all with equal truth! Kings and queens may find room in it; and so may thieves and beggars. Peers and paupers sit on one seat in this word. “Whosoever” has a special voice for you, my hearer! Do you answer, “But I am an oddity”? “Whosoever” includes all the oddities. I always have a warm side towards odd, eccentric, out-of-the-way people, because I am one myself, at least so I am often said to be. I am deeply thankful for this blessed text; for if I am a lot unmentioned in any other catalogue, I know that this includes me: I am beyond all question under the shade of “whosoever.” No end of odd people come to the Tabernacle, or read my sermons; but they are all within the range of “whosoever.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
When the great mutiny in India had been brought to a close, and peace was being made between the government and the rebels, the Queen caused a proclamation to be made throughout the rebel provinces that all who should lay down their arms, and come to certain appointed places by a fixed day, should receive forgiveness, with some exceptions. Ah! these exceptions. The poor fellows who knew they could not be forgiven, but must be put to death, never came. The love of God knows no exceptions; whosoever will,nay come. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Somebody said he would rather read “Whosoever” than see his own name, because he should be afraid it might refer to some other man who might have the same name. This was well brought out in a prison the other day, when the chaplain said to me, “I want to describe a scene that occurred here some time ago. Our Commissioners went to the Governor of the State and got him to give his consent to grant pardons to five men on account of their good behaviour. The Governor said the record was to be kept secret; the men were to know nothing about it; and at the end of six months the criminals were brought out, the roll was called, and the President of the Commission came up and spoke to them; then putting his hand in his pocket he drew out the papers and said to those 1,100 convicts, ‘I hold in my hand pardons for five men.’ I never witnessed anything like it. Every man held his breath, and was as silent as death. Then the Commissioner went on to tell how they obtained these pardons; that it was the Governor who granted them,” and the chaplain said the suspense was so great that he spoke to the Commissioner and asked him to first read out the names of those who were pardoned before he spoke further, and the first name was given out thus, “Reuben Johnson will come out and get his pardon.” He held out the papers but no one came. He looked all around, expecting to see a man spring forward at once; still no one arose, and he turned to the officer of the prison and said, “Are all the convicts here?” “Yes,” was the reply. “Then, Reuben Johnson will come and get his pardon.” The real Reuben Johnson was all this time looking around to see where Reuben was; and the chaplain beckoned to him, and he turned and looked around and behind him, thinking some other man must be meant. A second time he beckoned to Reuben, and called to him, and the second time the man looked around to see where Reuben was, until at last the chaplain said to him, “You are the man, Reuben;” and he rose up out of his seat and sank back again, thinking it could not be true. He had been there for nineteen years, having been placed there for life; and when he came up and took his pardon he could hardly believe his eyes, and he went back to his seat and wept like a child: and then, when the convicts were marched back to their cells, Reuben had been so long in the habit of falling into line and taking the lock step with the rest that he fell into his place, and the chaplain had to say, “Reuben, come out; you are a free man.” (D. L. Moody.)
The naturalness of God’s love
When William Knibb had been preaching from this text in Jamaica, returning home he came up with an old black woman, and he said to her, “What do you think of the great love of God?” Simplicity is often allied to sublimity. “Think, massa!” she replied; “Me think it be just like Him.” So it is. St. Peter says, “According to His abundant mercy He hath begotten us again.” It is just like Him. It is as a father pitieth his children. (S. Coley.)
Christ not the cause but the manifestation of God’s love
The law of gravitation existed from the foundation of the world, it daily exerted its influence, keeping the stars in their orbits, and swinging them around their respective centres. The mysterious force, however, was unknown until discovered by Sir Isaac Newton, and published in his writings. It existed from the first; only a century or two ago was it made manifest. In like manner the love of God existed from eternity, from days of old. It burnt as hot in the days of Noah and of Abraham, as on the Incarnation morn or the Atonement eve. All through the ages it governed the world with a view to its final redemption. But in the Incarnation and Propitiation was it revealed, only then did it force itself upon the obtuse vision of the world. “Ye have believed that I came out from God. I came forth from--out of--the Father, and am come into the world.” Not only He came from God, but He came out of God. John the Baptist came from God. (J. C. Jones, D. D.)
The love of God as seen in the gift of Christ
A story has been often told of the fondness of parents for their children; how in a famine in the East a father and mother were reduced to absolute starvation, and the only possibility of preserving the life of the family was to sell one of the children into slavery. So they considered it. The pinch of hunger became unbearable, and their children pleading for bread tugged so painfully at their heart-strings, that they must entertain the idea of selling one to save the lives of the rest. They had four sons. Who of these should be sold? It must not be the first: how could they spare their firstborn? The second was so strangely like his father that he seemed a reproduction of him, and the mother said that she would never part with him. The third was so singularly like the mother that the father said he would sooner die than that this dear boy should go into bondage; and as for the fourth, he was their Benjamin, their last, their darling, and they could not part with him. They concluded that it were better for them all to die together than willingly to part with any one of their children. Do you not sympathize with them? I see you do. Yet God so loved us that, to put it very strongly, He seemed to love us better than His only Son, and did not spare Him that He might spare us. He permitted His Son to perish from among men “that whosoever believeth in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The love of God in the gift of Christ
When Jesus looked at the poor widow He found a new rule of arithmetic. When she dropped in her two mites He said that she had given more than they all. What new rule was this? Many had given much, but the Lord looked at what they had left. This woman had given all. Try God by His own rule. He had but one Son--His only begotten. If He had taken every star from the sky, and manipulated those stars, and moulded them all into a gigantic body of which every star was an atom; and then if He had taken every seraph from His throne and made a mighty amalgam of all souls into one, and had put that giant mind into that gigantic body, and given that body and soul for man, it would have been as nothing to this. A word of His could have restored the dismantled heavens; but God Himself cannot make an only-begotten Son. (S. Coley.)
God’s provision of the sacrifice
Transport yourselves in imagination to Athens or Rome; observe closely the images of the gods, in motley crowds on either hand of you; see the rivers of red blood flowing towards them. No marvel that “Paul’s spirit was stirred within him as he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.” Come with me again to Jerusalem. Behold the image of the invisible God lifted up on Calvary. Does blood flow towards it No: blood flows from it. Here, then, we have hit upon the radical difference between paganism and Christianity. Blood to the image: that is’ the essence of paganism. Blood from the image: that is the essence of Christianity. The heathen gods demand a sacrifice, but never provide it; the gospel God both demands it and provides it. “He gave His only-begotten Son.” (J. G. Jones, D. D.)
God’s love and justice in sacrifice
King Zeleueus decreed that whosoever committed a particular offence should lose his eyes; and the first person found guilty was his own son. What a company would be gathered, and what an anxious inquiry there would be! What will the king do? Will he set aside the law because the offender is royal? Amid the hush of that gathered company the officer sternly commanded to do his duty dashed out one of the prince’s eyes. “Stop,” said the king, “take the other from me.” This was done. This will show that the love of the king was seen all the more from the justice of his administration. (S. Coley.)
I. ITS ORIGIN IN THE LOVE OF GOD, which will appear after we consider that
1. Man by nature is in a state of degradation and spiritual death by reason of sin.
2. The essential means of salvation is the free gift of God.
II. THE MANIFESTATION OF THIS LOVE. Observe
1. The gift.
2. The faithfulness of the Father in this transaction.
3. The part which the Son took in this stupendous work.
4. The necessity of this gift.
III. THE MEANS BY WHICH WE BECOME PERSONALLY INTERESTED IN THIS GIFT.
1. There must be repentance.
2. There must be faith. (J. Gaskin, M. A.)
The cost and cheapness of salvation
A preacher had gone down into a coal mine during the noon-hour to tell the miners of the glad tidings of salvation. Meeting the foreman on his way back to the shaft he asked him what he thought of God’s manner of saving men. “Oh, it is too cheap, I cannot believe in such a religion as that.” Without an immediate reply to his remark the preacher asked, “How do you get out of this place?” “Simply by getting into the cage,” was the reply. “And does it take long to get to the top?” “Oh, no; only a few seconds.” “Well, that certainly is very easy and simple. But do you not need help to raise yourself?” said the preacher. “Of course not,” replied the miner, “As I have said, you have nothing to do but to get into the cage.” “But what about the people who sunk the shaft, and perfected all this arrangement? Was there much labour or expense about it?” “Yes, indeed; that was a laborious and expensive work. The shaft is a thousand feet deep, and it was sunk at great cost to the proprietors; but it is our way out, and without it we should never be able to get to the surface.” “Just so,” and when God’s Word tells you that whosoever believeth on the Son of God hath everlasting life, you say, “Too cheap,” forgetting that God’s work to bring you and others out of the pit of destruction was accomplished at a vast cost, the price being the death of His only-begotten Son. (W. Baxendale.)
Redemption through Christ
I. MEN NEED DELIVERANCE FROM DEATH.
II. GOD’S LOVE IS SO GREAT AS TO PROMPT TO DELIVERANCE.
III. THIS DELIVERANCE HAS BEEN WROUGHT OUT BY SELF-SACRIFICE ON THE PART OF GOD.
IV. THIS DELIVERANCE IS MADE OURS BY A PERSONAL FAITH IN THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. (C. D. Barrows.)
I. THE DOCTRINE. “God so loved,” etc.
1. The first cause of redemption--the love of God to man. Christ died not that God might, but because He did love us.
2. The mode of human redemption. God’s love could not be a powerless thing dealing in fine sentiment and words of pity. It had a great end in view which could only be secured by an unparalleled sacrifice. “He gave His only begotten Son.”
3. The extent of human redemption. It would not be easy to find language more free and comprehensive than “the world … whosoever.” All are not saved, but none need be unpardoned. An universal need is here universally provided for.
II. THE DUTY. God has lavished the love of His heart on us and requires the trust and love of ours. Nothing can be simpler or more common than trust, the child’s first lesson and act. This is illustrated in the miracles of Christ. Only believe that Jesus has the will and the power to save and your confidence will not be disappointed.
1. Faith is different from knowledge. Yet there must be some knowledge. But there may be little knowledge and strong faith, and much knowledge and no faith. There are many well-instructed people who shrink from the thought of infidelity. Yet infidelity is the want of trust in God and Christ. Faith is the soul’s own rest in Jesus as its own Redeemer.
2. The text makes no distinction in the kind or degree of faith. It is doubtless better to have a firm than a weak faith. Still, if a man have faith at all he will be saved.
III. THE PROMISE. “Eternal life.”
1. A present realization.
2. “More abundantly” hereafter. Of this the unbeliever is deprived in time and eternity. He that believeth not is dead already. (J. Guiness Rogers, B. A.)
The Christian’s creed
I. Its first article is--GOD LOVES THE WORLD. Easy to say, impossible to realize in all its augustness. The great question is, What does God feel? Agnostics do not know whether He is force or Father. But when they cannot tell what you yearn to know Jesus comes, and there is light over all the darkness and despair of life. On any lips this would be a wonderful word, but in the lips of Christ “love” meant all that was in His own heart. Himself the embodiment of love, He lifts our eyes to heaven and says, God loves, not made, rules, judges, but loves; and not the Church, but the world, and every individual in it. Mankind is not a larger family for God to love than is yours for you.
II. Its second article is--GOD HAS GIVEN US HIS SON. Love is ever giving. It gives its best. Our best earthly gifts are our friends, and God gives us the best friend. And He is ours absolutely, individually, and for ever--all He is and all He has. Value the gift which cost God so much.
III. The third article is--WHOSOEVER BELIEVETH IN CHRIST, etc. The condition upon which we are to receive salvation is universally practicable. If there were any other it would shut some one out. All our training in this world is a training for faith. All the joys of life are joys of trust. It is not a question whether faith shall be the condition of salvation. It is a necessity in the nature of things. If you suspect any you shrink from them. Doubt is the great gulf fixed between you and God, but faith is the link which binds us to Him. All that is needed, therefore, is the entrustment of the heart to God. Conclusion: That is our creed.
1. Repent of treating it so negligently.
2. Be not ashamed of it.
3. Fear not its future. Man will want no new one until all that wakes up our need of Christ is destroyed. (R. Glover.)
I. The everlasting FATHER.
II. The everlasting SON.
III. The everlasting LOVE.
IV. The everlasting LIFE. (J. C. Jones.)
The morality of the Evangelical faith
I. In these words I find my religion, theology, ethics, and politics, politics being one of the chief branches of ethics.
1. The Divine love for mankind.
2. The mission of the love of God for salvation.
3. Faith in the Son of God the condition of salvation.
4. Eternal life the gift of Divine love to all who believe in Christ.
II. Evangelical Christians have claimed one of these truths as preeminently their own. Faith in Christ as the condition of salvation is the very heart of the Gospel. Whitefield the Calvinist and Wesley the Arminian differed on many points, but when a man asked, “What must I do to be saved?” each gave the same answer.
III. Luther maintained that justification by faith was the test of a standing or a falling Church. We go further. It is as necessary to preach that men are sanctified by faith. Faith is the root of morality as well as the condition of pardon. Hebrews 11:1-40., which illustrates the triumphs of faith, is an unfinished fragment. You must add to it the story of the saintliness, heroism, righteousness, and charity of sixty generations; even then it remains a fragment still.
IV. To believe in Christ--what is it? Not the mere acceptance, however cordial, of the Christian creed. It is to have confidence in Christ, unreserved, unqualified, unmeasured. Whatever dignity Christ claims, faith reverently acknowledges. Whatever relations He assumes to God and to man, it concedes. Whatever authority He asserts, it submits to. When He teaches, faith admits His teaching as absolute truth. When He commands, faith accepts His precepts as the perfect law of life. When He promises, faith relies on Him to fulfil. To admit some of Christ’s claims and to reject the rest; to listen to His declarations that His blood is shed for the remission of sins; to refuse to listen, or to listen incredulously, when He speaks as the moral ruler of the race, this is inconsistent with faith in Him. (R. W. Dale, D. D.)
The power of this gospel of love on its first proclamation
If we could but hear the words for the first time, and without prepossessions either of Pharisaic error or logical orthodoxy, hear them with nothing but consciousness of sin and thirst for life, before the love of God had been hardened into doctrine, and the only begotten Son has become a quarrel for the schools. “Do your gods love you?” asked a missionary of some Indians. “The gods never think of loving,” was the cheerless answer. The text before us was read. “Read it again,” asked the arrested pagan. “That is large light, read it again.” A third time the blessed words were repeated; and with this emphatic response, “That is true, I feel it.” On one occasion a missionary was dictating to a native amanuensis the translation of the First Epistle, and when he reached the passage, “Now are we the sons of God,” the poor child of heathenism burst into tears, and exclaimed, “ It is too much, it is too much; let me put it, Now are we permitted to kiss His feet.” (A. J. Morris.)
God’s love for man
The missionary Nott was once reading and explaining this passage to some awakened Tahitians. One of his auditors asked: “Is it then really true that God has so loved you and us that He gave His only begotten Son for us?” Nott stedfastly affirmed that the gospel which he was preaching was really true; upon which the Tahitian cried out: “Oh, and thou canst speak of such love without tears!”--himself weeping from shame and joy. (R. Besser, D. D.)
The love of God
When Bonplau the botanist climbed one of the loftiest peaks of the Andes, he found it a volcano. The rim of the crater was covered with scoriae, and everything that looked like blasting and desolation, but just in one little crevice there was a tiny bright flower.
There it grew in beauty. Like enough the seed had dropped from a bird. The shower had fallen, the sun had shone, and the flower had grown there waving in the wind amidst surrounding desolation. The flower growing there on the rim of that fire funnel is something like the grand and beautiful love of God. He has planted flowers on the rim of perdition, on the very edge of that rim. (S. Coley.)
When John Williams sailed in his missionary ship, he said as he touched a shore where he had never been before, where no foot of white man had ever trod, wherever he preached for the first time he had this for his text. No text could bear him beyond this. He could stand anywhere, on any shore, and cry, “ God so loved the world.” (S. Coley.)
“I thank God for this word ‘whosoever,’” remarked Richard Baxter, “did it read, there is mercy for Richard Baxter, I am so vile, so sinful, that I would have thought it must have meant some other Richard Baxter; but this word ‘whosoever’ includes the worst of all the Baxters that ever lived.”
The universality of the atonement
Suppose a will is made by a rich man bequeathing certain property to certain unknown persons, described only by the name of “the elect.” They are not described otherwise than by this term, and all agree that although the maker of the will had the individuals definitely in his mind, yet that he left no description of them, which either the persons themselves, the courts, nor any living mortal can understand. Now such a will is of necessity altogether null and void. No living man can claim under such a will, and none the better though these elect were described as residents of Oberlin. Since it does not embrace all the residents of Oberlin, and does not define which of them, all is lost. All having an equal claim and none any definite claim, none can inherit. If the atonement were made in this way, no living man would have any valid reason for believing himself one of the elect, prior to his reception of the Gospel Hence he would have no authority to believe and receive its blessings by faith. In fact, the atonement must be wholly void--on this supposition--unless a special revelation is made to the persons for whom it is intended. (C. G. Finney, D.D.)
The personal appropriation of the atonement
During a revival season, a young man came to me in the inquiry room, and showed me a card like the following:
GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD, THAT HE GAVE HIS ONLY BEGOTTEN SON, THAT BELIEVING ON HIM SHOULD NOT PERISH, BUT HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE.
In the blank space, the young man had written his own name in full. Said he: “My superintendent gave me this card on condition that I would write my name in the blank space. If I had known what it was, I never would have promised; for I have had no peace since that day.” That night, on his knees, he found peace. Let the teacher prepare such cards, and try the plan. I have tried it with powerful effect. It makes this seem personal, and puts “me” in the place of “whosoever.” (A. F. Schauffer.)
A mother’s lesson
A young soldier was shot on the battlefield, and dragged by a comrade aside to die. He shut his eyes, and all his past life flashed before him. It seemed but an instant of time. He looked forward and saw eternity, like a great gulf, ready to swallow him up, with his sins as so many weights sinking him deeper and deeper. Suddenly a lesson, which his pious mother taught him when a little boy at her knee, stood before him in shining letters. It was a lesson he heard repeated again and again and again; she was never tired of imprinting it on his memory before she died; it was her only legacy. In the gaiety of life he had forgotten it. He had lost his hold on it, but it had never quite lost its hold on him; and now, in the hour of peril, it threw out to him a rope of mercy. What was it? “God so loved the world,” etc. He caught the rope; it seemed let down from heaven. “Lord, I believe,” he cried; “save me, or I perish!” Till he died, a few hours after, he said little but this one prayer: “Lord, I believe; save me, or I perish!” a prayer never uttered by the penitent soul in vain. (Clerical Anecdotes.)
For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world
WHAT IT IS THAT GOD HAS ACTUALLY DONE FOR US AS FALLEN SINNERS.
1. What is done? He hath redeemed us. Fallen by sin we are all by nature children of wrath, and according to the rules of justice uniter condemnation. Instead of allowing righteous wrath to take its course, God has interposed in arrest of judgment; not to do an unrighteous thing, not to exercise His mercy at the expense of His justice, but to open a door for lovingkindness. The everlasting Son took into union with Himself the nature that deserved the wrath and placed Himself beneath the falling thunderbolt which would have crushed the world. This was done 1800 years ago, and nothing can be added to it or diminished from it.
2. For whom is this work done?
3. Has God actually saved any one? Is redemption the same as salvation? What is salvation?
II. WHAT IS IT THAT GOD IS NOW DOING FOR US AS FALLEN SINNERS?
1. He is giving to one sinner after another repentance and forgiveness of sins and a character unto holiness commenced and progressive. During the whole of the dispensation this is the revealed work of the Holy Spirit.
2. To separate the elect from the mass of mankind as His purchased and sanctified ones.
3. He is giving the faith which secures all this, even freedom from condemnation and acceptance in the beloved.
4. Without this faith the old condemnation remains, and a fresh condemnation is added, that following on the rejection of salvation by the only begotten Son of God. (H. McNeile, D. D.)
No condemnation to the believer
I. THE PURPOSE OF GOD in sending His Son into the world. Consider
1. What that purpose was not. To condemn the world. He might have done so. The world’s iniquities had grown to a fearful height, and though for
1800 years the world has continued in rebellion, we dare not say that God sent His Son to condemn the world.
2. What that purpose was: that there should be wrought out in, and tendered to the world in, through, and by Christ, a salvation equal to the wretchedness and peril to which the whole race was exposed. Hence, then, it follows that no sinner need perish for want of a provision of God’s mercy and love.
II. HOW IS THAT INTENTION TO BE FULFILLED? By an act of faith.
1. What are we to believe?
2. How are we to believe?
1. It was through believing a lie that man fell; it is by believing the truth that he is saved.
2. Deem not sin a light matter.
3. Accept God’s provision of grace
Salvation and condemnation
I. SALVATION IS BY THE GIFT OF CHRIST.
1. Christ came not to condemn the world.
(a) From the condition of the world, without desire or effort for deliverance and rebellious against God.
(b) From the errands of other messengers sent in vengeance.
(c) From God’s foreknowledge of the way in which Christ would be received.
2. Christ came that the world through Him might be saved. The nature of this salvation is
II. THE WAY IN WHICH MEN BECOME PARTAKERS OF THIS SALVATION.
1. Some men regard the world as saved, contrary to Scripture and universal experience.
2. Others regard God as disappointed in His great design. Not so. God has provided the salvation; man must voluntarily partake of it. How?
1. The glory must be given to God because
2. But what is the instrumental cause? Faith.
III. THE REASON WHY MEN PERISH THOUGH SALVATION HAS BEEN PROVIDED.
1. Not because God passes them by or excludes them from life.
2. Not because there is no merit for them in Christ’s mediation.
3. Not because the Holy Spirit might have breathed upon them, but has not. But
4. Because the sinner will not believe. In this duty he fails.
5. Consequently he is condemned already by a double condemnation
The fundamental facts of Evangelism
Christianity is built on facts; those facts are connected with the history of a Person; that Person is the Son of God. Three such facts are here.
I. GOD SENT HIS SON INTO THE WORLD.
1. This fact implies
2. This is the greatest fact in the history of the world, perhaps of the universe. It constitutes the great epoch in the annals of the race.
II. God sent His Son into the world NOT TO CONDEMN IT. This is not what might have been expected.
1. Because of the wickedness of the world: full of ingratitude, idolatry, corruption, and rebellion.
2. Because of all the treatment His other messengers had received. The world had rejected, persecuted, murdered His prophets. Might it not then be expected that God’s Son would come on a mission of judgment.
III. God sent His Son into the world TO SAVE IT. What is salvation? Not physical, intellectual, or local change, but a restoration in the soul of what has been lost through sin.
1. Supreme love to God--the life of the soul.
2. Constant fellowship with the great Father--the happiness of the soul.
3. Useful service in the universe--the mission of the soul. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Christ the Saviour of even the worst of sinners
He does not exclude the greatest sinners when they come to Him, but on the contrary He gives them His first attention, as a surgeon who has been called to a field of battle to dress the wounded always first goes to the most desperate cases. (Nauden.)
Christ the Saviour of the world
In September, 1878, a dreadful accident happened on the Thames, when an excursion steamer, named the Princess Alice was cut down by the Bywell Castle, an outward bound merchant steamship. More than seven hundred persons that day found a watery grave. Among the brave efforts that were made on that occasion to save the drowning people, one of the noblest was made by a man who was in charge of a small boat at some distance from the scene of the collision. Rowing with all his might into the midst of the struggling passengers, he pulled several of them one after another into his little boat, which was now full and in danger of sinking, and prepared to row away. But when he saw the white, upturned faces of many others, and heard their piteous cries, “Oh, save me, sir!” “Don’t leave me, sir!” it is said that in agony he threw up his arms and cried, “O God, that I had a bigger boat! O God, that I had a bigger boat!” His heart was large enough to save all who were perishing, but his boat was too small; his power was limited. It is not so with Christ. He is the Life.boat of perishing humanity, and in Him there is room for the whole race, for “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (R. Brewin.)
The mission of Christ is plain
You can understand when the Prince of Wales went to America, all the country was excited, and it was said be had come for this purpose and that purpose. But when Christ comes He can tell us what He comes for. When the Prince of Heaven comes into this world He can tell us the nature of His mission. For “the Son of Man comes to seek and to save that which was lost.” (D. L. Moody.)
Salvation is for all who need it
I remember when Master Street Hospital, in Philadelphia, was opened during the war, a telegram came, saying, “There will be three hundred wounded men to-night; be ready to take care of them”; and from my church there went in some twenty or thirty men and women to look after these poor wounded fellows. As they came, some from one part of the land, some from another, no one asked whether this man was from Oregon, or from Massachusetts, or from Minnesota, or from New York. There was a wounded soldier, and the only question was how to take off the rags the most gently, and put on the bandage, and administer the cordial. And when a soul comes to God, He does not ask where you came from, or what your ancestry was. Healing for all your wounds. Pardon for all your guilt. Comfort for all your troubles. (T. DeWitt Talmage, D. D.)
The gospel the most glorious tidings
When the Romans, by conquest, might have given law to the Grecians at Corinth, in the solemn time of the Isthmian games, their general, by a herald, unexpectedly proclaimed freedom to all the cities of Greece; the proclamation at first did so amaze the Grecians, that they did not believe it to be true. But when it was proclaimed the second time, they gave such a shout that the very birds flying in the air were astonished therewith, and fell dead to the ground. But if you will have a better story, take that of the Jews, who, when at first they heard of Cyrus’ proclamation, and that the Lord thereby had turned the captivity of Sion, they confess that, at the first hearing of it, they were like men that dreamed; but afterwards their mouths were filled with laughter and their tongues with singing. Now, the peace that the Grecians and the Jews had was but the peace of a people or a nation, and a great blessing of God, too. But how much more reason is there that our affections should be strained to the highest pitch of joy and thanks, when we hear of the proclamation of the peace of conscience? that peace which is not of our bodies but of our souls--not of our earthly but of our heavenly estate? a peace that shall be begun here--that shall endure for ever hereafter; such a peace as will make God at peace with us, reconcile us to ourselves, and make us at concord with all the world. (J. Spencer.)
He that believeth on Him is not condemned
I. THE STARTLING PHENOMENON. The judicial separation of mankind into two classes, the believing and the unbelieving, the workers of evil and doers of good (John 3:20-21).
1. When it occurred. At the appearing of Christ (John 3:19).
2. How it was effected. By the appearing of Christ, the light, the effects of which were
II. THE SOLEMN EXPLANATION.
1. Of the behaviour of those who come not to the light.
2. Of the conduct of those who came to the light.
1. If a sinner is condemned, himself only, and neither God nor
Christ, is to blame.
2. If a sinner refuses to believe the gospel, he must share in the judgment which will ultimately fall upon the world. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
The essence of the gospel
When our Lord shall come a second time, before Him shall be gathered all nations, and He shall separate them as the shepherd divideth the sheep from the goats. That will not be the first time that He has acted as a separator. It is always so whenever He comes. Now He finds out His chosen and calls them apart, and on the other hand unbelievers are discovered. Between the two is a deep gulf. Other distinctions, riches and poverty, etc., sink into insignificance.
I. CONSIDER TO WHICH OF THE CLASSES WE BELONG.
1. What is meant by believing in Christ, for such is the preposition here.
2. The connection of the text will help us to form a judgment as to whether we are believers in Jesus.
3. Are we unbelievers?
II. CONSIDER THE CONDITION OF THE BELIEVER. He is not condemned, because he does not offer himself for judgment. He says, “I plead guilty.” Having done this, the believer sees the sentence laid upon the surety in whom he believes. This brings him peace. Then no more condemned, he seeks the light, and desires more and more to work in it.
III. CONSIDER THE CONDITION OF THE UNBELIEVER.
1. He offers himself for judgment. He has not believed in the Saviour, and confesses, “I do not require Him. I am willing to stand my trial.” If you ask for judgment you shall have it. God declares you to be condemned already.
2. He gives personal evidence to his own condemnation. He rejects the testimony of God concerning Christ. Is not that enough to condemn him?
3. He rejects a most exalted person. When men rejected Moses they perished without mercy; but when a man despises the Only begotten, we need call no witnesses against him.
4. He gives evidence against himself, for every man who rejects the true light always goes on to reject other forms of light, God’s Word and Spirit and his own conscience.
5. Consider the condemnation already pronounced.
6. Consider the only way of escape--immediate faith. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. THE OBJECT OF FAITH. To what faith looks.
1. How many make a mistake about this and think they are to believe in God the Father! But we come to this as a result of believing in God the Son.
2. Others look to the work of the Holy Ghost; but this is the effect of faith in Christ.
3. Christ is the sole object of the sinner’s faith.
II. THE REASON OF FAITH Why and whence.
1. To his own experience faith comes as a sense of the need of a Saviour.
2. Really and originally it is the gift of God. The Spirit comes and shuts men up under the law to a conviction that unless they come to Christ they must perish.
III. THE GROUND OF FAITH. What it means when it comes. Not that a man is a sensible sinner, or an awakened shiner, or a penitent sinner, but simply because lie is a sinner.
IV. THE WARRANT OF FAITH. Why a man dares to trust in Christ. Just because Christ has bidden him. Faith is a duty as well as a privilege.
IV. THE RESULT OF FAITH. How it speeds when it comes to Christ. “He that believeth is not condemned.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. THE SATISFACTORY DECLARATION. A verdict of “not guilty” amounts to an acquittal, so the sentence of “not condemned” implies the justification of the sinner. This is
1. A. present justification. Faith does not produce this fruit by and by, bug now.
2. A continual justification.
3. A complete justification, not half condemned and half accepted.
4. An effectual justification.
II. CORRECT SOME MISAPPRENENSIONS BY WHICH CHRISTIANS ARE CAST DOWN.
1. Some think they shall never sin again.
2. Others that they will have no more conflicts.
3. Others that they will be free from trials.
4. Others that the Father’s countenance will always be clear. None of these are guaranteed.
III. WHAT THE TEXT INCLUDES--the believer.
IV. WHAT THE TEXT EXCLUDES--the unbeliever. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Regeneration--faith the instrumental cause
I. THE ESSENTIALNESS OF FAITH.
1. Affirmatively. Our Lord mentions only the relation of faith to the legal aspect of salvation. This was enough, for he who apprehends believingly the work of Christ as the ground of his justification will not fail to experience it as a regenerative power. Many stumble through the simplicity of faith. They suppose that something difficult is required. But faith is identical with that implicit unquestioning confidence a person ordinarily exercises almost unconsciously in relation to almost everything he appropriates to his use: the food he eats, the garment he wears, the medicine he takes, the bridge he crosses, the train by which he travels.
2. Negatively. Without faith salvation is impossible. It is not that the unbeliever shall be condemned, he is actually so. It is a solemn truth that, notwithstanding all that Christ has done for us, it will avail us nothing without personal faith, for God cannot save men without their will.
II. ITS NEGLECT BY SOME. The light here referred to is Christ (John 1:9; Joh_8:12).
1. Men are voluntarily in the state indicated by darkness. Men are not unbelievers by compulsion. They love darkness. What a perversion of natural taste and judgment would such a physical predilection imply! “Truly the light is sweet,” etc. Yet a course of conduct that would be deemed the grossest folly physically is followed by thousands spiritually.
2. This is not an absolute preference. A degree of love for the light is implied. Many who remain in darkness cannot help feeling a measure of admiration for the light in which they refuse to walk: they attend the ministry of it, grant their passive assent to it, and yet remain in the darkness of unbelief.
III. THE CAUSE OF THE NEGLECT: Love of sin.
1. How explicitly our Lord brings the responsibility of men’s perdition home to themselves.
2. How sad that condemnation should be the portion of those who occupy a position so near salvation. Bunyan says there is a way to hell from the very gate of heaven. (A. J. Parry.)
He that believeth on Him is not condemned
A real acquittal
In the reign of George III.
the son of a member of this Church lay under sentence of death for forgery. Dr. Rippon, after incredible exertions, obtained a promise that this sentence should be remitted. By a singular occurrence the present senior deacon learned that the reprieve had not been received, and the unhappy prisoner would have been executed had not Dr. Rippon gone posthaste to Windsor, obtained an interview with the king in his bed-chamber, and received from that monarch’s own hand a copy of that reprieve, which had been negligently put aside by a thoughtless officer. “I charge you, doctor,” said His Highness, “to make good speed.” “Trust me, sire, for that,” said he; and he returned to London only just in time, for the prisoner was being marched, with many others, to the scaffold. That pardon might have been given, and yet the man might have been executed. But, blessed be God, our non-condemnation is an effectual thing. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Faith must rest on Christ
Not long ago a man said to me, “I cannot believe.” “Whom?” I asked. He stammered, and again said, “I cannot believe.” I said, “Whom?” “Well,” he said, “I can’t believe.” “Whom?” I asked again. At last he said, “I cannot believe myself.” “Well, you don’t need to. You do not need to put any confidence in yourself. The less you believe in yourself the better.” (D. L. Moody.)
Believing the one step into the kingdom of God
I am told that at Rome, if you go up a few steps on your hands and knees, that is nine years out of purgatory. If you take one step now you are out of purgatory for time and eternity. You used to have two steps into glory--out of self into Christ, out of Christ into glory. But there is a shorter way now with only one step--out of self into glory, and you are saved. May God help you to take the step now! Flee, my friends, to-night to Calvary, and get under the shadow of the cross! (D. L. Moody.)
The doom of unbelievers
I recollect how those words “condemned already “ rang in my ears, as I should think the bells of St. Sepulchre’s used to sound in the ears of the condemned in Newgate, warning them that the time was come to go out upon the scaffold. When the shadow of eternal wrath falls upon the heart, nothing worse can be imagined; for the conscience bears sure witness that God is just when He judges, condemns, and punishes. When a man feels the shadow of death upon him, infidel arguments are silenced, self-conceited defences are banished, and the heart consents to the justice of the law which declares, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Neglect is ruinous
Neglect is enough to ruin a man. A man who is in business need not commit forgery or robbery to ruin himself; he has only to neglect his business, and his ruin is certain. A man who is lying on a bed of sickness need not cut his throat to destroy himself; he has only to neglect the means of restoration, and he will be ruined. A man floating in a skiff above Niagara need not move an oar, or make an effort to destroy himself; he has only to neglect using the oar at the proper time, and he will certainly be carried over the cataract. Most of the calamities of life are caused by simple neglect. Let no one infer, therefore, that because he is not a drunkard, or an adulterer, or a murderer, that therefore he will be saved. Such an inference would be as irrational as it would be for a man to infer that, because he is not a murderer, his farm will produce a harvest; or that, because he is not an adulterer, therefore his merchandise will take care of itself. (A. Barnes.)
Believing is laying hold on Christ
“Mark you,” said a pious sailor, when explaining to a shipmate at the wheel, “mark you, it isn’t breaking off swearing and the like; it isn’t reading the Bible, nor praying, nor being good; it is none of these; for even if they would answer for the time to come, there’s still the old score; and how are you to get over that? It isn’t anything that you have done or can do; its taking hold of what Jesus did for you; its forsaking your sins, and expecting the pardon and salvation of your soul, because Christ let the waves and billows go over Him on Calvary. This is believing, and believing is nothing else.” (New Cyclopaedia of Anecdote.)
Not condemned, and condemned already
I. THE BELIEVER NOT CONDEMNED.
1. Christ has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
2. Faith in Christ identifies us with His sacrifice.
3. Identification with the sacrifice of Christ removes all personal guilt.
4. So the believer is not regarded or dealt with by God as a sinner. He is not condemned
II. THE UNBELIEVERS ALREADY CONDEMNED.
1. What does unbelief seem to do?
2. The cause of unbelief must be evil, and what is evil is foolish.
3. The nature of unbelief.
4. The doom of unbelief (Mark 16:16; Proverbs 1:34-36; Matthew 11:23; Luke 12:47; Hebrews 10:29). This doom is confirmed by the conscience of the unbeliever. (S. Martin.)
The condemnation here spoken of is not of the judge but of the architect. It is a customary thing to appoint a committee to examine a bridge or a building, but if either is condemned as unfit for use, the architect merely proclaims that repair is needed: he refers to the past, not to the future. He says, not that they are to be destroyed, but that he will not guarantee them for a single moment, that the hall or building is not safe for a meeting-place, and that the bridge is not fit to he a vehicle of commerce between man and man. The whole word lies in the word already. Some here may have read that wonderful story of George Eliot’s, “Daniel Deronda,” and remember the marvellous character in it, Mordecai, who, by the mysticism of his mind, is represented as having gone back. He became possessed with the idea that he was a bridge over which the whole world was passing; he felt the feet trampling over his life, and they weighed him down with agony, Never was Mordecai so little of the madman as when he possessed that thought. Whether we realize it or not, the idea is true. Every one is a bridge for the whole world. The world would not have been the same if you bad not lived, and what is that but saying you are a means of transport for the generations? Therefore it is of the more value that some are labelled, “Condemned already”; to hear a voice warning us back from the gilded parapet, from the painted structure, from the gaudy edifice; for the frail planks are ready to fall into the mighty cauldron, seething below. Stand back till the rotten materials are renewed and welded together. (G. Matheson, D. D.)
A person who had noticed a flower of a very rare kind growing on a narrow ledge on the face of a precipitous rock, was very desirous to gain possession of it. There was no possibility of reaching it except by a person being let down from the top suspended by a rope. The person interested engaged a boy of the neighbourhood, and brought him to the spot for this purpose. But the boy, when he saw the situation of the flower, hesitated. His employer tried to tempt him by the offer of a larger reward, but still he hesitated. At last, when a very considerable sum was named, he turned to the gentleman, and said, “Yes, I will get it, if I may fetch my brother to hold the rope.” Here is an example of implicit trust consciously exercised under extraordinary circumstances. (A. J. Parry.)
Salvation through union with Christ
In primitive times there was a law or custom that if a man or woman would consent to marry, under the gallows, a person condemned to death, the criminal would thereby be saved from execution. There are instances on record of this custom having been carried out. We have here a faint picture of the grand truths of the text. The sinner “is condemned already,” is under sentence of death, but Christ consents to raise him into union with Himself, and so thereby deliver him from his terrible doom, but faith working through love must be the bond of this mystical union. And this faith regenerates the man. By it the greatest sinner is transformed into a saint. (A. J. Parry.)
The great alternative
Let us consider, then, this sin of unbelief, and the two reasons, furnished by my text, for its being made the ground of condemnation.
I. First of all, in regard to the sin itself, you will notice how entirely everything is made to hinge on the fact of a man’s believing or his not believing. The difference between these two is all the difference between condemnation and acquittal. Doubtless it was well for Nicodemus, during whose interview with our Lord the statement of my text was uttered, that the issue should be narrowed to so definite a point. It was well he should know that however far he might be inclined to go in his acknowledgment of Jesus, nothing short of personal trust in Him as his Messias would suffice. Nor is it enough, to make a man a Christian, that he accepts, in a general way, the teaching of Scripture, and seeks to bring his life into accord with the Divine commands. There must be something much more precise and radical than this. There needs an uprooting of the life out of its old soil, a transplanting of it into new conditions, the committal of your whole nature into the hands of a Divine Person, out of whose deep inexhaustible being it shall henceforward draw its succour and support. And if this be wanting, then all is wanting. Whatever your connection with Christianity may have done for you, if it has failed to connect you with Him it has failed of the one thing it seeks to accomplish. It may have begotten within you anxious thoughts and surmises about its mysteries. If your convictions of guilt have not persuaded you to have recourse to the great Pardoner and Purifier of sinners, then they have failed of their marl;. He that believeth not, whether he be serious or careless, whether he be the profane scoffer or the regular church-goer, is condemned already. Notice particularly, I pray you, the force of that word already. Sentence is not suspended till it be seen whether you succeed in attaining a certain pitch of moral excellence or fall below it. It is not unfixed and unsettled till the end of your life, and then for the first time shaped into a verdict. Then it will only be revealed and made manifest. Then it will only be pronounced and read aloud from the page of that book on which it now stands recorded. Already you are condemned if you do not believe in the only-begotten Son.
II. I pass on now to consider why unbelief should be made the ground of condemnation. Two reasons are given.
1. The first is, because it involves rejection of the only-begotten Son of God. He came, as we have seen, not to condemn men, but to save men who were condemned already. And His coming was not one of a number of similar expedients, that had been tried before. To reject Him, then, is to reject the only possible means of escape from a doomed state. It is to remain separate and apart from God, that is, in a condition of death and condemnation. If you can find any sin, or ingrained force of habit, which
He cannot conquer and break, then you may hesitate to appeal to Him for help. But the fact of His Divine Sonship precludes all this. It is important to notice here the turn that takes place at this point in our Lord’s reasoning. He wishes to bring out the personal responsibility of each individual. The unbeliever is condemned, not because he is involved in the sinfulness that is common to humanity, but because of his unbelief; that is to say, not because of his sharing a guilt which was brought upon him by the offence of another, but in virtue of his own deliberate deed--because he hath not believed. It has been a matter of conscious choice with him. He has had the alternative placed before him, and he has preferred to be without Christ and perish, rather than take refuge in His grace. Now, this is true of every unbeliever. And if you are not receiving and trusting Him you are choosing to reject Him.
2. The second reason specified for the condemnation attached to unbelief is, that it involves the greatest immorality. It is a very common impression that unbelief leaves a man no worse than it found him. Other sins may render him an object of suspicion. Untruthfulness may strip his statements of credibility. Fraud may exclude him from the dealings of honourable men. Excess in eating or drinking may brutalize him, and make him an unsteady customer in business. But he may be as good for all practical purposes whether he believes or not. That is a matter confined to the sphere of opinion, and need not affect his actions, to any appreciable extent. A creed does not make a Christian, unless it be wedded to a life. And a true believer in Christ is different from other men by a vast difference, a difference that works through his whole nature, turning it in a new direction, and shaping it to a new end. Do not suppose that to believe in Him is a mere act of the intellect, and nothing more. If that were all you might do so or not do so, and the effects would never extend beyond your intellect, just as one may not be a whit the worse because he rejects some purely scientific or formal truth. Faith is not a mere assent to certain propositions. It is an act of the whole moral nature, closing with Christ for moral and spiritual ends. In coming to Him, then, you come that He may achieve within you that for which He came to you. You come that you may be pardoned and purified, that He may impart peace to your conscience, and touch you with the living power of His quickening Spirit. And when you refuse to come it is because you object to this process of renewal. And in refusing to be like Him you refuse to be like God, you show your deliberate preference for the evil which He hates. So that unbelief is the most terrible of all sins, the sin in which the innermost, deepest aversion of the heart to God comes to a head and acts. Having looked upon the light, and having looked also upon the darkness, and having wished that you might live in the sunshine, but wished also still more that you might abide in the shadow of some pet sin, or of some habit of self-righteousness, have you turned away, away from Christ, away from God, away from hope? Then do not disguise the reason from your eyes. Do not set it down to a mere exercise of intellect. “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men have loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” (G. Mornet, M. A.)
Unbelief arraigned and condemned
I. THE NATURE OF UNBELIEF.
1. A denying of the truth of the gospel.
2. A doubting or wavering uncertainty of mind about the truths of the gospel.
3. When, though a person may be convinced in his mind, by rational arguments, that the Bible is the Word of God, he does not fall in with the great design of the Scriptures by receiving Christ, and resting upon Him alone for salvation as He is there presented and discovered.
II. THE CAUSES OF UNBELIEF.
1. The devil has a great hand in it.
4. A pretended humility and self-denial is another great bar in the way of believing, to many; they thrust away Christ and the mercy of God from them, under a pretence that they are not fit for it.
5. A secret jealousy, as if God were not in good earnest with us, when He offers Christ and His salvation to us in the gospel.
III. THE SENTENCE.
1. Prove that the sentence is passed against the unbeliever. “He that believes not in the Son shall not see life” (John 3:36).
2. The unbeliever is condemned already.
3. A few qualities of this sentence of condemnation passed against the unbelieving sinner.
1. See hence a very sufficient reason why ministers of the gospel do so much urge the necessity of faith.
2. See hence the miserable and mournful condition of the generality of gospel hearers; they are a company of condemned men, under sentence of death.
3. How ill-grounded the joy and triumph of a Christless, unbelieving sinner!
4. See hence how fitly the gospel is called a joyful sound (Psalms 89:15).
5. It is every man’s duty and interest to examine and try whether be be under this heavy sentence or not. (Pulpit Assistant.)
This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world
God’s condemnation of men
The first entrance of light produces two effects--it makes manifest and it separates. By this well-known result of the dawn we understand that when the Light that saves entered the world His appearance at the same time became the complete condemnation of men. But these words do not refer simply to the immediate effects of Christ’s advent. They contain a truth for all time.
I. THE PRINCIPLE OF DIVINE CONDEMNATION. On what ground does. God condemn humanity? It has been said that God deems men for evils which it was beyond their power to avoid; as saving some few, and sending the rest to perdition because he chooses to do so. Christ here affirms that God finally condemns men, not for being sinful, but for content to be sinful.
1. Contemplate sin as a power slumbering in human nature. It is there, even in the child. The most virtuously educated, when thrown suddenly into some unusual companionship, will show it. God cannot doom a man for sinful impulses which any temptation may draw forth.
2. Pass on to the rise of sin into conscious deeds. Has man power in himself to free himself from its slavery?
II. THE MANIFESTATION OF THIS PRINCIPLE IN THE COMING OF CHRIST. When the light came, every man who rejected Him proved his contentment in sin. Two things are requisite to prove this.
1. Man must be brought into a state in which he shall be able to choose deliberately between God and sin: and into this state the coming of Christ brings him. Through Christ the strongest and holiest powers--love, pity, sorrow act in man’s nature and appeal to him to enter the light and liberty of the sons of God.
2. Man must show his contentment in sin, and thus doom himself. The rejection of Christ is utter self-condemnation.
The cause of present and future condemnation
I. A FACT STATED. “Light is come in the world.”
1. The light of conscience which
2. The light of nature.
3. The light of Divine revelation.
4. The light of the Holy Spirit.
5. The light of reason.
II. MAN’S PERVERSENESS ILLUSTRATED. “Men loved darkness rather than light.” Darkness signifies ignorance and sin; light, knowledge, and purity. How strange the sinners infatuation.
1. Instead of paying attention to the inward monitor, he seeks its destruction.
2. Men walk about the temple of nature and admire its workmanship, but see no Supreme Being.
3. Men have the Word of God and treat it as a fable:
4. They resist to grieve the Holy Spirit.
5. They reject the great salvation.
III. THE REASON ASSIGNED FOR THIS MORAL OBLIQUITY. “Because their deeds were evil.”
1. Sin is not an accident of our lives.
2. Sin is the choice and love of our hearts.
IV. MAN’S CONSEQUENT CONDEMNATION.
1. Sinners are condemned in this life.
2. Sinners will be condemned in the life to come. (R. Sergeant.)
Love of darkness rather than light
When the Bastille was about to be destroyed a prisoner was brought out, who had long been lying in one of its gloomy cells. Instead of joyfully welcoming his liberty, he entreated that he might be taken back to his dungeon. It was so long since he had seen the light that his eye could not endure the light of the sun. Besides this, his friends were all dead, he had no home, and his limbs refused to move. His chief desire now was that he might die in the dark prison where so long he had been a captive. (W. Denton.)
Light come into the world
This is one of the most important announcements ever made in a sinful world, and to lost mankind.
I. LET US EXAMINE THE ASSERTION, that--“Light is come into the world.” It is a strong and beautiful metaphor, signifying knowledge--salvation--happiness.
1. It is revelation. It dawned on Adam, rose upon the patriarchs and prophets--but has arrived at noonday by Christ and His apostles.
2. What it reveals.
II. THE WORLD IS REPRESENTED AS IN A STATE OF DARKNESS. It may have natural light and intellectual light--but it is in moral darkness.
1. What this darkness is. Ignorant of God as the true God--ignorance of sin and guilt of sin.
2. This darkness I preferred. Sinners avoid the means of conviction--are afraid of the light-neglect the word, the house, and the service of God.
III. THE REASON WE DARKNESS IS PREFERRED.
1. The innate love of sin. It is their element--the delight.
2. They find ease in sin. No alarms--conscience lulled.
3. The few rays of light that do occasionally break in are unwelcome and painful. They excite suspicion and fear.
4. If the light were admitted it would require an abandonment of evil practices which are pleasant; hence darkness is preferred because it is more congenial with sin.
IV. THIS PREFERENCE OF DARKNESS IS THE OCCASION OF AN AWFUL CONDEMNATION.
1. God condemns all that refuse the light He has condescended to impart. He will send on such strong delusions, that they should believe a lie.
2. Christ condemns all that refuse His light.
3. Unbelievers will condemn themselves in retirement, on a sick bed, and in a dying hour.
4. All will condemn them at the judgment because they loved darkness, not for want of light, but because they hated it: preferred sin and darkness, not from force or necessity, but from the love of it.
1. Consider the awful state of sinners under the light of the gospel. Their greater light exposes to a greater condemnation. Not like heathens.
2. Their condemnation will be final--eternal.
3. The condemnation is now come, but not the execution of the sentence, therefore there is yet time for repentance.
4. The Redeemer waits to translate us out of darkness into His marvellous Hebrews 10:29). (The Evangelist.)
The test of condemnation--loving darkness rather than light
What is a test of this condemnation? Our Lord’s words are so very liberal that I would not have used them if He had not; I would have been afraid of the presbyteries. He does not place the test upon inadequate belief or doctrine, or even on deficient morality, but on deadness of aspiration. This is the condemnation, that men have loved darkness rather than the light. But that alone does not prove unfitness; our Lord’s liberality is not yet exhausted. There is another condition--the light must have come into the world. If you get up at midnight and enter your dark sitting-room the mirror that was wont to flash in the daytime will show no light. Why don’t you smash the mirror? It seems to love the darkness, and why? Because its light had not yet come. And there are hundreds in this city in precisely the same position. They are dark because no light has come to them. Suppose I ask you if you have the spirit of a poet, and you say, “Oh no, I haven’t; I never wrote a line of poetry in my life. I once tried and failed miserably. I have no idea of metre or scansion.” But I take you to the top of a mountain when the light is coming, when the morning is dawning and nature is about to drench the dark world in a liquid bath of gold; and I watch the gleam of enthusiasm brighten over your countenance as from your heart rise the words, “Oh, it is beautiful!” Then, my brother, I know you are a poet, though Tennyson be ignorant of you and Wordsworth acknowledge you not. So if you want to know if you are within the pale of Christianity stand on the mountain when Jesus passes by, and should you feel one fond desire, one punting aspiration which makes you cry, O to be like Thee, to be near Thee I then, though your Thirty-Nine Articles be reduced to ten, though your morality lags faintly behind, by that thrill of aspiration in your heart you will know you have seen the Bright and Morning Star and that your light has come. How could it be possible for any man or woman to love darkness rather than light? The answer to that, too, is here, “Because their deeds are evil;” and this condition comes at the end of a long process. No man ever stretched his hands to Satan and prayed, “O Prince of the Power of the Air, I want to be bad, to break hearts, to bring tears to loving eyes, to cultivate malice and envy and all uncharitableness.” No, he began by evil deeds, and his beautiful aspirations continued to survive long after. I have heard the birds singing in October, and they seemed to say, It was once summer, it is summer no longer. It is a survival of old culture and the golden summer-time. Young man, listen to them, and go back. I knew a youth, brimming over with music, poetry, and aesthetic culture, but he returned, all his high aspirations gone through a life of intemperance and debauchery. Sin had taken away the aesthetic glow and his power of admiration. Is there any hope, then, for those who have got to this stage, who have put out their eyes? Yes, by retracing their steps over past deeds, never seeking to go into the past but keeping their hands from past sins in the future; and the beauty will come back in the way by which it went. In the words of the Israelitish Psalmist, the first joy comes back after a life of abstinence. The beauty of old days returns when in God’s law “he doth meditate day and night.” The 33rd of Isaiah is grander still, telling us we must begin by the life of self-denial if we would see the glory of the Lord. By traversing the narrow defiles of duty, the morning at last shines. A few more strokes of the oar, a little more straining of the muscles, a few more struggles against the angry foe, and, courage! you will see the land at last. (G. Matheson, D. D.)
Ignorance may be wilful
There is a sort of ignorance, which is not an ignorance of an empty understanding, but of a depraved heart; such an ignorance as does not only consist in a bare privation, but in a corrupt disposition; where the understanding is like that sort of blind serpents, whose blindness is attended with much venom and malignity. This was such a blindness as struck the Sodomites: there was darkness in their eyes, and withal villany in their hearts. (Dr. South.)
Refusing the physician
Two gentlemen were fellow-passengers in a vessel bound for a distant port. One was in vigorous health, and the other emaciated with disease, and manifesting premonitory symptoms of a speedy dissolution. He was young and intelligent, but had not made what he knew to be the necessary preparation for the event which was rapidly approaching. His fellow-passenger, as they were drawing near the port whither they were bound, advised him to consult an eminent physician who resided there. “No,” he replied, “I shall not consult him.” He was asked, “Why?” To which he answered, “It is not because I do not entertain the highest opinion of his skill, but he will honestly tell me that my disease is incurable, that I must die; and I do not wish to receive the announcement from such a source.” It is just so with the multitudes who know that they must die, and that they are totally unprepared for the event. They are afraid to consult the great Physician, lest they should be told the worst of their own case. In opposition to their better judgment, they endeavour to hide from their eyes the doom which awaits them. Their deception is voluntary; it is of their own choosing. They wish it to be so, and therefore do they avoid the means of detecting and exposing it.
It is madness to refuse Christ
Suppose I was going over London Bridge, and saw a poor miserable beggar, bare-footed, coatless, hatless, with no rags hardly to cover his nakedness, and right behind him, only a few yards, there was the Prince of Wales with a bag of gold, and the poor beggar was running away from him as if he was running away from a demon, and the Prince of Wales was hallooing after him, “Oh, beggar, here is a bag of gold!” Why, we should say the beggar had gone mad, to be running away from the Prince of Wales with the bag of gold. Sinner, that is your condition. The Prince of Heaven wants to give you eternal life, and you are running away from Him. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.” (D. L. Moody.)
Light and liberty
Going to Helena I saw piles of boxes and goods and all manner of things on the landing, and I said to the superintendent, “Do the slaves buy as much as used to be bought for them by their masters?” “A great deal more.” “Well, what things do they buy?” “Buy? Looking-glasses and candles.” “Looking-glasses, of course: candles, however?” said I. “What do they want with candles?” In the old slave-times a slave was never allowed to have a lighted candle in his cabin after it was dark; nothing, unless it was a fire, was allowed, and the candles became in their eyes the signal of liberty; and the moment that they were free they said, “Give us light.” (H. W. Beecher.)
Two great wonders
There are two wonders, one from above, the other from the depths of Satan: “God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son”--and the world so loved darkness that it rejected the only-begotten Son of God who was given for it. (R. Besser, D. D.)
The action of light
The world of darkness is a world of false terrors and confused appearances. In the night, old and familiar objects fake new forms; common things seem to stand out like strange dangers in our way; well-known things are changed; and we cannot distinguish shadows from realities, or the dangerous from the secure. But the first morning beam that pierces the dark world restores the confusion to order; the shadowy perils fly, and the strange night-world disappears. That first beam manifests things in their reality, and by making manifest it separates the false from the true. (E. L. Hull, B. A.)
The blessedness of light
Imagine a traveller passing through a wild and unfrequented country. He misses his road. Night overtakes him. The storm rages; winds howl around him; the rain descends in torrents; thunders break in loud and terrific peals; whilst lightning fires occasionally discover dangerous precipices, rendering his condition imminently perilous. At length a faint but steady light comes gleaming from a distance; he follows the light, he treads the bright pathway, it leads to a human habitation--to shelter, warmth, and security. Sinner, you are that traveller. Human life is a wilderness. You are in the night of sin; wandering on the dark mountains of transgression; in imminent danger. The next step you may be irrevocably lost. But light has come into the world. Oh follow it! It will lead you to peace, security, and heaven. (R. Sergeant.)
The wilful folly of rejecting the light
None of us can prevent the sun from shining, but all of us can prevent the sun from shining on us. The great orb of day still floods the earth with undimmed lustre; but we can shut ourselves away from his beams, in caves and holes of the earth. So we may shut ourselves away from that Sun of the soul who lighteth every man that cometh into the world. We cannot make God less loving, less merciful, less gracious than He is; but we can stand apart from that love, that mercy, that grace. “Behold the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear: but your iniquities have separated--are separating--between you and your God, and your sins have hidHis face from you, that he will not hear.” Would you have the Sun shine on you? Tear down the wall and roof of separation which you have built between you and him. (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
For every one that doeth evil hateth the light … but he that doeth truth cometh to the light
The repelling and attractive influence of light
These words may have taken their form from the fact that Nicodemus came by night, and may have been a gentle rebuke, and a test for self examination.
One of the saddest things in a spiritual sense is that man shrinks from the light. With a nature and position before God such as his this ought not to be. One of the most blessed things is when men welcome the light, and have nothing about them that they wish to hide (Psalms 139:23).
I. DOING EVIL AND THE HATRED OF LIGHT CONSEQUENT.
1. The word doeth, in relation to evil, πρασσώ, indicates
2. The evildoer hates the light. And no wonder if that which reveals his guilt and folly humiliates and disgraces him, and threatens punishment, is feared and hated. No wonder that Ahab hated Elijah and Michaiah, that Jehoiachin destroyed the prophets’ roll, that Herodias hated John, and the Pharisees Christ. Here is the explanation of every unhumbled man’s distaste for the truth. “The carnal mind is enmity against God.” This shows the need and blessedness of the Gospel.
II. DOING THE TRUTH AND THE BLESSED RESULT.
1. The word doeth, here, ποιεω suggests.
2. Doers of truth love the light. They are neither ashamed nor fearful. Let the light shine, and it will justify them, and reveal the glory of God in their truth doing. Conclusion:
1. The sentiment of a man towards the truth is an index to his character.
2. The doing of truth in every man is of God. (G. McMichael, B. A.)
The ground of infidelity
Many men seem to proceed on the supposition that, though placed under the Gospel, they may accept or reject it, just as their inclinations dictate. But it is not left to every man’s choice in a Christian land whether or not he will be subject to the Gospel. It is not a matter of option with a man who resides in a kingdom, whether he will be governed by the laws of the land. If he violate them it will avail him nothing to plead that he never intended to take them as his guide. No doubt a man may make something else than the Gospel the rule of his life: but the solemn fact remains that the Gospel, after all, continues to be the rule by which he will be tried. When he appears before the Judgment Seat the processes will have reference to the dispensation beneath which it pleased God to place him, and not that under which he has chosen to place himself. It will avail him as little to say, “I acted up to the light of nature; I never professed to be led by any other light”, as it would for an Englishman to plead in the courts, “I acted up to the laws of Japan, which I professed to follow.” The Gospel, then, will be the system by which we shall be judged, though it may not have been that under which we have lived. Here comes the question, Why is the Gospel rejected? If men are to be condemned for its rejection, it must follow that the rejection cannot be pleaded as unavoidable. Is there a man necessarily blameworthy for being an infidel? May he not have sat down with a calm and decided wish to investigate truth and to believe Christianity, and yet arise confirmed in his scepticism? The answer is this: that we dare not take the blame off men and throw it upon God. This may sound illiberal and uncharitable, but we cannot admit that God is the author of sin through placing any of His creatures under the invincible necessity of continuing in sin. In the text Christ charges men’s unbelief in their immorality. The Scriptures conclude that where actions are evil faith cannot be genuine. The text states the converse of this, that practice influences faith. Men prefer darkness; therefore they hate light.
I. THIS WAS SO WITH THE JEWS. When Christ came, Judaea was over-run with profligacy. Christ rebuked it, and was consequently hated and crucified. Wherever the religion of our Lord is promulgated, it allows no truce to sin, but Christ came to save men from sin. Had He come to condemn men His contemporaries would have shrunk from Him equally. Their sensuality and pride had led them to expect a triumphing Messiah, who would give full scope for their licentiousness and arrogance; and when He preached His pure and spiritual kingdom, their habits of evil rose up in protest against Him and it. It was not that He was not armed with credentials; the exhibition of His greatest credential, the resurrection of Lazarus, sealed His doom.
II. IT IS THE SAME NOW. What produces infidelity is not weakness of evidence; it is the wish to prove the Bible a fable, and this goes more than half-way towards the result. If the Bible be true, evil deeds must be reproved, and hence some men have an interest in disproving its pretentions. In this desire lies the secret of open, also of practical infidelity. Selfish, lustful men would view conversion as a positive calamity. They know that they cannot have religion without renouncing much that they loved, and doing what they dislike. In conclusion
1. God has erected no barrier against the salvation of a single soul.
2. If any man is finally condemned, it will be by his own choice. (H. Melvell, B. D.)
I. God is to be honoured by the truth.
II. Men are to be benifited by the truth.
III. Opposition must be expected on account of the truth.
IV. For the truth we should wish to five.
V. For the truth we should be willing to die. (Prof. J. H. Godwin.)
The hatred of the wicked to the light of the Gospel
I. IT IS AN ACTUAL HATRED (Proverbs 1:22).
II. IT IS A PASSION OF THE HEART.
III. IT IS A PASSION WHEREBY THE HEART RISETH UP AGAINST A UNION WITH THE WORD. A wicked man hates not the Word so long as it keeps within itself; but if it begin to pluck sin from him and his pleasures from him, then he hates it. I put this union of the Word in opposition to four things.
1. Against general preaching. A wicked man may hear a thousand sermons and like them all, but let one of them come in particular to him and tell him this is thy sin, and thou must go to hell for it if thou repentest not, then he hates it. John the Baptist was heard by Herod gladly so long as he kept off his personal sin.
2. Against merciful preaching, which can never stick a sermon on to a profane heart. Ahab loved his 400 prophets well enough, but when Micaiah came, “Oh, I hate him, for he never prophesieth good unto me!”
3. Against preaching when the minister is dead. A wicked man can endure that, because there is none to urge a union of the Word with his conscience. He can read St. Paul, St. Peter, St. John, etc., and the books of dead ministers, but if they were alive to tell him if this be the Word of God then thou art a damned man, they would not be loved.
4. Against now and then preaching. The wicked can endure the word so long as it doth not stand digging in their conscience and galling their hearts day by day. Occasional rebukes they can stand, but to be convicted every Sunday for condemned men, this they hate.
IV. As it is an actual affection whereby the heart riseth up against a union, so IT IS AGAINST THAT WHICH IS DISSONANT AND REPUGNANT TO HIS LUST. Therefore wicked men may love three kinds of preaching.
1. Quaint preaching that savours more of humanity than of divinity. Dainty phrases, acute stories, eloquent allusions are heard well enough.
2. Impertinent preaching, when, though it be never so pertinent to some in the church, yet if it be not pertinent to him, he loves it. The drunkard does not cavil at a sermon against hypocrisy, nor the profligate at one against covetousness; but if the Word strikes his own particular corruption, he hates it.
3. So much preaching. A wicked man’s conscience tells him that he must have some religion, and therefore so long as the minister calls only for some hearing, he responds. The vilest drunkard will be content to hear of calling on the Lord Jesus at his death; otherwise their consciences would not be quiet.
V. THUS YOU SEE THAT WICKED MEN HATE THE WORD OF GOD. They hate it because
1. They hate the truth, and being of the Word, a man hates the being of that which he hates, and he would destroy it. Now, though a wicked man cannot destroy the Bible from being in itself, yet he would destroy the Bible from being in his life.
2. They hate the nature of the Word (Romans 8:7).
3. This being the case, he hates the being of the Word in his understanding Job 21:14).
VI. USE IS TO REPROVE THE WICKED AND INVITE THEM TO REPENTANCE. (W. Fenner.)
The ground of bad men’s enmity to the truth
I. THE ENMITY OF THE WICKED TO THE TRUTH. This enmity appears
1. In their opposition and resistance to it.
2. Their persecution of it (John 8:40).
II. THE CAUSES AND REASONS OF THIS ENMITY.
1. They are afraid the evil of their actions should be discovered to themselves, because that creates guilt and trouble.
2. Bad men are enemies to the truth because it discovers the evil of their actions to others, which causeth shame.
1. We learn the true reason why men are so apt to reject the principles of natural and revealed religion; they are loath to be under the restraint of them.
2. This is a great vindication of our religion that it can bear the light, and is ready to submit to any impartial examination.
3. This is the reason why some are so careful to suppress the truth and to lock it up from the people in an unknown tongue, because their doctrines, dogmas, and deeds are evil. (Abp. Tillotson.)
Sinners hate the light
I. THE TRUTHS OF GOD WHICH RESPECT THE SINNER ARE, AS FAR AS THE NATURE AND CIRCUMSTANCES OF THEM ARE CONCERNED, AS EASILY FELT AND SEEN AS ANY OTHER.
II. THE MIND CANNOT TURN FROM DIVINE TRUTH WITHOUT CHOOSING TO DO IT.
III. MEN RESORT TO ARTIFICES TO HIDE THE TRUTH, TO TURN ITS FORCE AND RESIST ITS PRESSURE.
1. One is infidelity.
2. Another is found in the excuses offered for disobedience.
3. The indulgence of false hopes.
4. Reproaching religion and ministers.
1. The common complaint that sinners must wait for the Spirit of God before they can feel the importance of religion is unfounded and impious.
2. Ministers must not be afraid of alarming and distressing sinners. (N. W. Taylor, D. D.)
At the first Methodist Conference it was asked, Should they be afraid of thoroughly debating every question that might arise? What are we afraid of? Of overturning our first principles? If they axe false, the sooner they are overturned the better. If they are true, they will bear the strictest examination. Let us pray for a willingness to receive light, to know every doctrine whether it be of God. (R. Stevens.)
A sluttish housemaid, when scolded for the untidiness of the chambers, exclaimed, “I’m sure the rooms would be clean enough if it were not for the nasty sun, which is always showing the dirty corners.” Thus do men revile the gospel because it reveals their own sin. Thus all agitations for reforms in Church and State are opposed, and all manner of mischief attributed to them as if they created the evils which they bring to light. The lover of the right courts anything which may manifest the wrong, but those who love evil have never a good word for those disturbing beams of truth which show up the filthy corners of their hearts and lives. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Revelations of the light
What a difference it makes to have a street well lighted at night! The cheery beams of the street lamp and the dazzling brilliancy of the electric light are more of a protection to the traveller at night through city streets than the weapon of the policeman. The evil beings who haunt our streets at night shun the well-lighted thoroughfares, and skulk off into dark alleys and unlighted lanes, where their evil deeds are not likely to be discovered. And yet it is not the light alone that makes the difference. There are palaces of sin where riot and revelry go on unabashed beneath the glare of gilded lamps and crystal chandeliers; for the light of the physical lamp is of little moral avail unless it is made effective by that other light of which Christ spoke when he said, “Ye are the light of the world.” The powers of darkness fear the natural light only when it is accompanied by that better light; and the guilty creatures who showed their guilt, unashamed, in the brilliantly-lighted palaces of sin, would cower and shrink beneath the Christ-lighted eyes of true and pure men, if suddenly exposed to their searching gaze. There are anxious souls who seem to themselves never to have done anything for the Master, who might be comforted a little if they could only realize how important is this work of mere light-bearing. Many a neighbourhood, now forced to be outwardly respectable by the presence of a few God-fearing men and women in its midst, would break out into open and flagrant wickedness if that restraining and enlightening presence were to cease. But wherever God’s children are, the light shines, and the workers of iniquity are forced to hide their evil deeds. It is a deed worth doing to flood the streets at night with the electric light; but it is a deed far better worth doing to let one’s Christian light so shine that evil men will fear to bring their evil deeds to the brightness of its shining; for the light of a little band of Christian men and women is worth more, to keep a community pure, than all the light of all the lamps ever invented (H. C. Trumbull.)
What the light reveals
Some time ago the use of the electric light in those theatres where it had been introduced was discontinued because its great brilliancy revealed the sham character of the furniture of the stage; it showed the paint on the faces of the actors, and the gewgaw and tinsel nature of their dresses and ornaments; so the dimmer light of the gas was substituted. Thus it is morally with men; they refuse to come into the bright light of the gospel lest it make manifest the shams of their lives. We have instances of this in those persons who frankly tell us that they cannot become religious because of the dishonest ways and methods of business to which, they plead, they are compelled to conform. (A. J. Parry.)
The different effect of the light on the good and the bad
That which scares the wicked from, draws the godly unto the Word. The owl flies from the morning light, which other birds welcome. (J. Dyke.)
I. There is the blindness which is the result of passion, covering us, whilst we are under the dominion of passion, with the darkness of sin, and hiding from us the light of truth.
II. There is the deeper blindness which is caused by sinful habits, and by indulgence in continuous sin, until truth becomes odious to us.
III. There is the still blacker form of sin, which not only drives us away from the light, but which hurries us on until we trample upon and persecute the doers of righteousness. (Quesnel.)
Man’s proper attitude towards the truth
There is all the difference in the world between battling for the truth because of one’s love for the truth, and battling on the side of truth because of hostility to the opponents of truth. A man may be as intense and as violent in the one case as in the other; but if a man lacks a profound conviction of truth, and a devoted love for truth, he can never be inspired to a high courage, and held to an unwavering endurance, by any hatred of those who are over against him in his struggles. All real progress in any line of reform is made through the dead earnestness of men who love the right; not through the impulsive violence of men who are aroused, for a time, against the upholders of evil. He who loves his fellow-man, and therefore strives for his disenthralling, is worth more as a friend of liberty than he who hates oppressors, and therefore seeks their overthrow. So it is in every sphere of well-doing; love for the good is a more potent factor than hatred of evil--more potent even in the battle with evil. (H. C. Trumbull.)
Why men hate the truth
A gentleman once visiting an acquaintance of his, whose conduct was as irregular as his principles were erroneous, was astonished to see a large Bible in the hall chained fast to the floor. He ventured to inquire the reason. “Sir,” replied his infidel friend, “I am obliged to chain down that book to prevent its flying in my face.” Such persons hate the Bible, as Ahab did Micaiah, because it never speaks good concerning them, but evil. (Biblical Museum.)
Light reproves sin
The margin will show that our translators felt a difficulty about this word “reproved.” See Matthew 18:15, where it is rendered “tell him his fault,” idea is exactly illustrated by the action of light, which makes manifest the wrong, and leads the conscience to see it and repent of it. It is through this chastening that the man passes from darkness to light. It is because men shrink from this chastening that they hate the light (comp. the remarkable parallel in Ephesians 5:11 et seq.). (H. W.Watkins, D. D.)
Light reveals sin and alarms sinners
Some persons accuse us poor preachers of disturbing the minds of our hearers, when persons are alarmed under the ministry of the gospel. The very purpose for which it was sent was to alarm men’s minds; and it fails altogether when it does not alarm. When the ministry of the gospel alarms the sinner, he sees its workings going on in his bosom; it comes out before his friends and companions; they ask him why he should sacrifice himself to that sort of teaching which disturbs and agitates him? Why, my friends, we do not bring the things there that are discovered--it is the light that reveals them; they were all there before--it is the light that falls upon things--and then they appear in a very different manner; and the ministry of the gospel is designed and constituted to make the darkness light, to convince the sinner and to awaken the impenitent.
Light and crime
In 1807 Pall Mall was lighted with gas. The original Gas Company was first derided and then treated in Parliament as rapacious monopolists, intent upon the ruin of established industry. The adventurers in gaslight did more for the prevention of crime than the government had done since the days of Alfred. (Knight’s “England. ”)
Christians love light
“Light breaks in! light breaks in! Hallelujah!” exclaimed one when dying. Sargeant, the biographer of Martyn, spoke of “glory, glory,” and of that “bright light”; and when asked, “What light?” answered, his face kindling into a holy fervour, “The light of the Sun of Righteousness.” A blind Hindoo boy, when dying, said joyfully, “I see! now I have light. I see Him in His beauty. Tell the missionary that the blind see. I glory in Christ.” Thomas Jewett, referring to the dying expression of the English infidel, “I am going to take a leap in the dark,” said to those at his bedside, “I am going to take a leap in the light.” While still another dying saint said, “I am not afraid to plunge into eternity.” A wounded soldier, when asked if he were prepared to depart, said, “Oh yes; my Saviour, in whom I have long trusted, is with me now, and His smile lights up the dark valley for me.” A dying minister said, “It is just as I said it would be, ‘There is no valley,’“ emphatically repeating, “Oh, no valley. It is all clear and bright--a king’s highway.” The light of an everlasting life seemed to dawn upon his heart; and touched with its glory, he went, already crowned, into the New Jerusalem. A Christian woman lay dying. Visions of heaven came to her. She was asked if she really saw heaven. Her answer was, “I know I saw heaven; but one thing I did not see, the valley of the shadow of death. I saw the suburbs.” A young man who had but lately found Jesus was laid upon his dying bed. A friend who stood over him asked, “Is it dark?” “I shall never,” said he, “forget his reply. ‘No, no,’ he exclaimed, ‘it is all light! light! light!’ and thus triumphantly passed away.” (American Messenger.)
But he that doeth truth
He that doeth truth cometh to the light
What is it, then, to do the truth? For that would seem to be the condition which brings us within the rays of the light of Him Who is the Spirit of Truth, the right disposition in which to keep Whitsuntide.
I. “He that doeth truth.” This would seem to mean, first of all, HE THAT BELIEVETH THE TRUTH. We can no more shut up the Book of Revelation than we can shut up the book of experience, and say it does not matter. Can we say, for instance, to any young man entering on the study of medicine, “It does not matter the least what system you follow--homoeopathy, allopathy, or even herbalism; all are equally true or equally false, as long as you mean well.” Or shall we tell him, if he wishes to become a soldier, that drill and tactics and the modern science of warfare may be taken up or let alone, provided that he is brave? or that engineering depends on mechanical skill, or botany on his love for flowers, or chemistry on a taste for analysis, or mathematics on skill in computation? No; we know that all these things have their Bibles, compendiums of exact truth; so that he who enters on the study of them, enters on it enriched with a heritage of precise fact wrested by the patient interrogation of phenomena. And so it is with religion. The truth as set forth in the Creed is that which is exactly adapted to the needs of mankind. What we should do if we were constructing a new religion is one thing, and what we ought to do when God has told us what will make us truly religious is another. And to do the truth, is faithfully to believe what God has spoken, as a duty which we owe to Him and to our fellow-men also.
II. “He that doeth truth.” This, perhaps, means, secondly, HE THAT LIVES THE TRUTH. A true life is no butterfly existence wasted in so-called pleasure and idleness, never serious, never earnest; where all experience is but as pictures on the wall, all talents merely ornamental for self-display; where grace is received in vain, as the water in the fabled penance of the Danaides, which flows away as fast as it enters in; where sin and want of seriousness have riven the soul so that it cannot contain grace. But the true life will be one which is faithful to all God’s influences and modes of approach, which says in its joy, “My soul truly waiteth still upon God;” towards Whom there is the aspiration of prayer; from Whom comes the message to the soul; at Whose coming the door is opened in Holy Communion, and all the approaches cleared by which God may enter into the soul To live the truth is to trust more to prayer and sacraments and holy things than to mere human culture, self-reliance, strength, or cleverness. Think of that description in the Book of Revelation Revelation 10:1) of the servant of God. And as the angel is mighty, so the servant of God will be strong in firmness and fidelity, and in the knowledge of the truth. He is “clothed with a cloud;” there will be a seriousness about him, as of one who is still under the influence of the luminous cloud of Sinai, where he has been communing with God, or the half-sadness of one who is compassed about with the earth-drawn sorrow with which sympathy has enveloped him. “A rainbow is upon his head;” he has a brightness within him which lights up the rain-cloud of life, because God is shining upon it. “His face is as it were the sun,” because at each prayer-time, and frequently throughout the day, he drinks in light from that Sun to which he turns. “His feet are as pillars of fire,” for he is not easily shaken in his steadfastness; he is active, vigorous--yes, graceful as the image Of God who created him.
III. And then, thirdly, “He that doeth truth” means, obviously, HE THAT SPEAKETH THE TRUTH. Is it absolutely unknown, for instance, for people to screen themselves when they have done wrong by the easy lie? Dishonour, ruin, disgrace, stare the man in the face. “Say you have not done it,” says Satan; and the evil is put off, only to return with a tenfold aggravation of malignity as the net of deceit winds itself tighter and tighter round its hopelessly implicated victim. The old German legend is full of instruction. “A huntsman to forward his own purposes seeks the devil, and together they cast seven bullets. Six of these are to strike wherever the caster wills, but the seventh is to be the devil’s, and is to recoil and strike the caster, who is never certain which of all of them he is putting into his rifle, and at last is struck down by his own shot.” The fraudulent lie succeeds for a time, but at last comes the fatal one, which recoils upon him who uses it with shame and disaster. Do we scrupulously adhere to the disagreeable appointment, or the unpleasant duty, or the invitation which we have pledged ourselves to accept? Or are we always careful to avoid that exaggeration which piles up rumours and reports, which mixes truth with fiction, Which stays not to inquire whether a thing is correct or not, which aims, rather, at “saying a new thing that is nut true, rather than a true thing which is not new”? (W. C. E. Newbolt, M. A.)
He that doeth truth
It is observable, in the first place, that there are several places in the New Testament in which the truth is spoken of in ways not very much unlike to this; places, that is, in which it is spoken of, variously indeed, but in each of them as something real and solid,--not a mere object of apprehension by the intellectual powers of a man--not something external, merely viewed, seen, recognized, but something internal, something to be, and something to do--something full of blessing, a precious possession, a gift, an inward treasure (see John 8:31-36; Joh_14:5-6; Joh_17:17; Joh_18:37; 1 John 3:19; 1Jn_5:6). Now it is plain that these statements of Holy Scripture--and there are a great many more like them, particularly in the inspired writings of St. John--make the truth (the Divine truth) to be something very sacred and very deep. Whatever it be in itself--and this is too hard and difficult a question for us to enter upon--it is plain that when possessed by a man, it is full of precious blessing to him. Possessed by a man, and possessing him, he is not what he was before. The truth has made him free who was a slave. The truth has made him who had no ears able to hear the words of Christ; the truth has sanctified him; the truth has made him God’s son. What relation then (it may be asked), does doctrine bear to the truth? for it is plain that it is not the same thing. If the truth be thus something mysterious and real, which, coming forth of God, and being Divine, taketh, possesseth, occupieth a man, what relation does it bear to doctrine, Divine doctrine, the true revealed declarations of God, His nature and His will, which He has been pleased to give us? for these are often called truths, or the truth, though plainly not in the high and mysterious sense of the truth which we have been considering. I suppose that it is quite beyond our power to answer exactly. It is only clear that they are very nearly and closely connected. It is certain that the truth cannot possess a man and bless him with all the great blessings which belong to it, unless doctrine be duly known, and received, and believed. Doctrine is, as it were, truth projected on some medium which the mind can see; a shadow of the invisible and blessed truth cast, as it were, upon a cloud; and this the mind must see, and know, and own, and believe, or else, such is the order of God’s will, a man cannot have the freedom indeed, the sonship, the sanctification, the open ears, the various great and precious blessings of the indwelling truth. Learn then from hence the sacred value of doctrine; its sacred, deep, unfathomable preciousness. If then we undervalue doctrine, who shall insure us against losing the truth? If we tamper with it, or lose our hold of it, who shall insure us of our freedom and sanctification, which we should derive from the indwelling truth? If we should allow others to seduce us from our simple, earnest, obedient subjection to it, who shall assure us that they have not robbed us of our precious estate of being in the truth? Thus far then we have regarded the truth as it is a real and precious thing, possessing which we are in an estate or condition of high blessing--the estate of being Christians; our text rather leads us to regard it in a further view, as being something practical, something to be done. Being in the truth (that is, our estate, or condition), we must do truth (that is, our duty). “If we keep not His commandments, the truth is not in us.” “If we say that we have no sin, the truth is not in us.” “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we do not the truth.” The truth then, in which we are, is to be done; and keeping of the commandments of God, and walking in the light, and acknowledging our own sins, are doing the truth. Truth, then, means holiness. Being in the truth, we must do the truth; and we must do it, as the truth is in Jesus. And so our law of holiness is a law of holy truth. It is a straight and direct law: “O that my ways were made so direct that I might keep Thy statutes.” It admits not of deflection, or voluntary imperfection. As doctrine is the intellectual phase, if I may so speak, of essential Divine truth, so is obedience its practical one. To deviate into heresy, or to deviate into sin, are alike to depart from the influence of that sacred, central truth, in which we are sons, in which we are free, and in which we are holy. It is plain (as soon as we regard the law of God in this light, in which the Holy Scriptures so often present it to us) that the law of truth must needs be a very holy and righteous law. It is also plain that it is far higher, and holier, and more searching than it is often thought. How it cuts like a sword through all the easy living, the self-indulgence, and lazy half-service which characterize these later ages of the Church! If there be a truth of holy thoughts, surely there is much unlicensed and random thinking--much letting loose of the imagination on things trifling, and enervating, and unprofitable, which must partake in a great and serious degree of the nature of falsehood. If there be a sacred truth of holy words, there must be much idle and frivolous, and satirical, and bold talking, which must be very far below that high standard of truth, and so be really false. Above all, if there be a real sacred truth of duty and holy living, there must be a vast deal of practical and dangerous falsehood, in the waste of time, the imperfectness of service, the very easy and self-complacent way of life of very many baptized Christians. Indeed, we may readily see, that the ordinary rule of living, as we may judge of it from seeing how men live, is quite of another kind from the rule of truth. As long as they refrain from clear and notorious sins, and discharge certain clear and undoubted duties, men think themselves more or less at liberty to live in the rest of their behaviour as they like best. There are, as it were, certain buoys marking out particular shoals of sin, and these they must take care to steer clear of; but meanwhile, they have a free choice of navigating in a wide and easy channel, following their own fancy, and doing as much or as little therein as they please. And meanwhile, while practical truth is thus widely neglected among us, there is nothing which is more earnestly insisted upon as a virtue of the first necessity to the existence and well-being of society than veracity, or worded truth. Truth in words is held to be a virtue of such magnitude and necessity, that a clear breach of it ruins the character of a man amongst men more than almost any sin, however gross, which ordinary society knows. Worded truth, or veracity, precious as it is, is but as the outside, as the husk, of a more precious reality inside. Worded truth is the outside, and acted truth is the inner kernel. Oh, believe me, the essence of falsehood is deeper, deeper far than words! Believe me, it is a hollow philosophy which magnifies veracity, and lets the daily habits loose in self-indulgence and neglect: a miserable worldly code which exacts truth of words under the severest penalties, and makes it innocent and even honourable to depart, ever so far, from truth in deeds I No; the essence of truth is in duty, in heart-whole devotion of duty to the sacred law of God’s truth. (Bishop Moberly.)
After these things came Jesus and His disciples unto the land of Judaea (see also on John 3:30 for the whole paragraph)
Jesus and John and their disciples
A HUMBLING EXAMPLE OF THE PETTY JEALOUSIES AND PARTY SPIRIT WHICH MAY EXIST AMONG PROFESSORS OF RELIGION (verse 26).
1. This spirit is but too common in the churches. Men care more for the increase of their party than for the increase of Christianity, and cannot rejoice when it spreads outside of their own denomination or congregation.
2. True Christians must watch and pray against this spirit. It is contagious, injurious, and brings contempt on religion. Whereever good is done we should acknowledge it and be thankful (Philippians 1:18).
II. A SPLENDID PATTERN OF TRUE AND GODLY HUMILITY.
1. John’s conduct is contrasted with that of his disciples.
2. This frame of mind is the highest degree of grace to which a man can attain.
Daniel, Paul, and the Baptist.
III. AN INSTRUCTIVE DECLARATION OF CHRIST’S HONOUR AND DIGNITY.
1. For the last time John testifies to Christ’s dignity. Christ is
2. Let us hold the same views.
IV. A BROAD ASSERTION OF THE NEARNESS OF THE SALVATION OF TRUE CHRISTIANS.
1. Salvation is not a future and distant privilege. The believer “hath” everlasting life.
2. Unbelief is a tremendous peril. (Bp. Ryle.)
The Masters and the disciples
I. HOW MUCH OF HUMAN NATURE THERE EVER HAS BEEN AND IS EVERYWHERE AND THROUGH ALL TIME, Even with the Lord present and overseeing jealousies arose.
II. HOW SMALL OFTENTIMES WERE AND ARE THE SUBJECTS OF QUESTIONING BETWEEN FOLLOWERS OF JESUS. On this occasion it was an unknown something about purifying which neither the Baptist nor the evangelist thought it worth while to name. Is it not humiliating that ecclesiastical history is largely a story of strife on the merest “mint and anise” as compared with those fundamentals wherein all true disciples are practically at one. A politician once sought to allay alarm about the invasion of India by sending a large map showing the vast distances and obstacles that would have to be overcome. So if men would only scan the height and depth and length and breadth of the work given to all who love the Lord they could never wrangle over petty things.
III. HOW LITTLE JOHN’S DISCIPLES KNEW HIM OR HAD BEEN INFLUENCED BY HIS MINISTRY. Had they known him could they have imagined rivalry between him and Christ? Had they received his testimony about Christ, they must have known that appeal from what Christ elected to do was impossible. It must have saddened John to have to repeat his testimony again. Let the preacher and teacher be humbly patient in recognizing the transciency of the impression left by the most momentous truths and the necessity of their frequent repetition.
IV. TRIVIAL AND UNWORTHY AS WAS THE OCCASION OF THIS QUESTIONING WE MUST REJOICE THAT IT CAME TO PASS. From this low level the Forerunner re-argues the whole position, and speaks out with a new volume and momentum all that lay in his mind and heart. Trivial circumstances may give rise to the most important disclosures. (A. B.Grosart, D. D.)
John also was baptizing
The ministry of John was exercised
I. In the WILDERNESS OF JUDAEA, where he preached and also baptized Matthew 3:1; Mark 1:1-5; Luke 3:3).
II. IN PERAEA, east of Jordan at BETHANY (John 1:28).
III. At AENON near to Salim. In these places he proclaimed Christ.
1. In the first by preannouncing Him as the great Baptizer and Judge of all Matthew 3:11-12).
2. In the second, by pointing Him out as the Lamb of God (John 1:19-28; Joh_3:26).
3. In the third by declaring Him to be the Bridegroom of the Church and by delivering the illustrious testimony here recorded. (Bp. Wordsworth.)
AEnon near to Salim
Three miles east of Shechem, at the head of the great Wady Farah, which has in all ages been the highway from the Damiet ford of the Jordan to Sheehem, there are great springs marking this spot. They rise in open ground amidst bare and unattractive hills, and flow down the slope, through a skirting of oleanders, in a strong brook which grows deeper on its way from the addition of numerous small streams. The village of Salim is a wretched collection of small huts, square and flat-roofed, with a tree, large for Palestine, near them, enclosed within a stone wall for preservation, and with a few olives dotting the bare slopes. Looking westward, the eye crosses the great plain and travels up the valley of Shechem, but around Salim itself there is nothing at all attractive. To make the identification complete there is a village called Ainun four miles north of the principal stream. With abundant water flowing all the year round, a central position, free space for the crowds, and a situation on the edge of the descent to the Jordan, of which the waters of the neighbourhood are, south of the plain of Esdraelon, the main tributary on the west, no position more favourable in every way could have been chosen by the Baptist for his work. That he once raised his earnest voice in regions now so silent and forlorn casts an interest over the landscape more powerful than it could otherwise have had, even had it possessed great natural attractions. (C. Geikie, D. D.)
Then there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying
The controversy about purifying
I. AFFORDS AN EXAMPLE OF THE TENDENCY TO SINFUL DISPUTES UNDER THE MOST FAVOURABLE CIRCUMSTANCES.
1. The Lord and His messenger are the cause of this dispute.
2. The minds of the disputants were carnal.
3. Times of reformation specially breed such disputes. The gospel is then a new truth. Prejudices are excited and inflamed.
4. We must not be scandalized when such things occur.
II. SHOWS THE INJURY WHICH ARISES FROM MISTAKEN VIEWS OF THE OBJECT INTENDED TO BE SERVED BY OUTWARD ORDINANCES.
1. The question seems to have been the comparative efficacy of John’s baptism, the various Jewish washings, and probably Christ’s.
2. Ecclesiastical rites may be substituted for Christ and His gospel.
3. Salvation may come without ritualism of any kind.
III. TEACHES THE BANEFUL INFLUENCE OF THE SPIRIT OF SELF AND PARTY, SO COMMON IN THE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH.
1. Certain Jews, grieved at the progress of the gospel, approach certain disciples of John and artfully endeavour to excite their minds to jealousy against Christ.
2. These come to John and try to inflame his envy by representing the universal popularity of Christ. (A. Beith, D. D.)
Christ attracts sinners
Among the several wonders of the loadstone this is not the least, that it will not draw gold or pearl, but, despising these, it draws the iron to it, one of the most inferior metals: thus Christ leaves the angels, those noble spirits, the gold and the pearl, and He comes to poor sinful man, and draws him into His embraces. (T. Watson.)
The attractive power of Christ
A Christian mother was once showing her little girl, about five years old, a picture representing Jesus holding an infant in His arms, while the mothers were pushing their children towards Him. “There, Carrie,” said her mother, “this is what I would have done with you if I had been there.” “I wouldn’t be pushed to Jesus,” said little Carrie, with beautiful and touching earnestness; “I’d go to Him without pushing.” (Biblical Treasury.)
Christ sufficient for all
“I come very often,” said the pitcher one day to the spring, which it again approached to be filled with its pure water. “I hope I do not come too frequently, but I soon get emptied, and as often need to be replenished.” “You are but one of a great many that come with the same errand,” answered the flowing spring. “It is very generous of you to give unto all that come,” said the pitcher, “and that, like myself, apply so frequently.” “I never refuse any, and send none empty away,” replied the spring, “and however large the number that I take, I am not at all impoverished. I draw in order to supply the wants of the thirsting, and whosoever will let him come.” (Bowden.)
All men may come to Christ
There is enough in Jesus Christ for to serve us all. If two, or six, or twenty men be athirst, and they go to drink out of a bottle, while one is drinking the other envies, because he thinks there will not be enough for him too; but if a hundred be athirst, and go to the river, while one is drinking the other envies not, because there is enough for all. (W. Bridge.)
John answered and said, A man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven
John’s joy fulfilled
I. JOHN ASCRIBES HIS POSITION AND QUALIFICATIONS TO THE DIVINE SOVEREIGNTY (verse 27). What he says is true of temporal things, much more of spiritual things and the happy use of both.
1. John wished his disciples to entertain truthful views of his position. It was of God that he had been qualified for his work, and had been successful in it. God therefore could only say when it was done and give him his discharge. He was content to patiently await the issue.
2. From this it follows that envy of others reflects upon God. Those who rate against Moses rebelled against God. Backbiting, calumny, a secret or open opposition to those whom God has made superior to us, comes under this category (cf. the cases of Miriam and of Aaron and of Korah)
3. To be dead to such a passion on John’s principle, how precious! This grace distinguished Jonathan and Paul.
II. JOHN’S DECLARATION THAT HIS PAST DOCTRINE WAS CONSISTENT WITH HIS PRESENT STATEMENT (verse 28).
1. We may reasonably conclude that John was disappointed in his disciples. That all his teaching had been lost upon them was a humbling trial. If he had ever been tempted to exult over results this must have been a severe correction. Yet he must have felt unspeakable comfort that he could boldly appeal to their consciences for the character of his testimony.
2. Two things were ever prominent.
3. Truths so obvious must have silenced his too zealous followers. They could not now but remember what he had said. Let us learn that not hearing only, but profitable hearing is our duty.
III. CHRIST’S RELATION TO THE CHURCH RELATIVELY TO JOHN’S (verse 29).
1. Christ’s relation to the Church is that of bridegroom. John here alludes to a common Old Testament emblem. The Jews understood the marriage of the first pair as typical, and so that of Abraham with Sarah, and Isaac with Rebecca. The marriage relation was that which God sustained to His people (Ezekiel 16:1-63.; Psalms 45:1-17.; and Song of Solomon).
2. John ascribes to Christ the glory due to Him, and it is of vital interest that we should receive his testimony. Christ qualified Himself for entering into this alliance with us by sharing our nature while retaining His own. He entered upon it by special contract with the Father. He fulfilled every legal obligation, and “loved the Church, and gave Himself for it.” He participates with His people and provides for them, and whatever a faithful, tender husband might do, He has engaged to do and actually does.
3. John’s relation was that of the Bridegroom’s friend. The bridegroom, on all nuptial occasions, had his “friend,” whose office was to conduct the bride to the bridegroom. Thus, Moses was God’s “friend,” when he brought Israel into the wilderness. Similarly John was, and all ministers are Christ’s “friends” to bring the Church to him.
IV. THE NECESSARY ISSUE OF JOHN’S MINISTRY AND CHRIST’S (verse30). The course of Christ was that of the sun in the firmament. John’s that of a lamp to shine on a dark path until the orb of day appeared. In the consummation of this ministry John rejoiced. (W. Bridge.)
John and Jesus
The points of contrast between Christ and the Baptist, as stated by the latter in these five verses, are five-fold; thus: He is the Christ: I am but the forerunner. He is the Bridegroom: I am but the’ friend of the Bridegroom. He must increase: I must decrease. He is from heaven: I am of the earth. He speaks what He has seen and heard in heaven: I speak of the earth. With the last of these compare a somewhat similar opposition Hebrews 12:25. (G. J. Brown, M. A.)
I am not the Christ … I am sent before Him
John first, then Jesus
I. WHAT DID JOHN PREACH?
1. He delivered the whole law against sin; even in the case of Herod Mark 6:18-20) and of the Pharisees (Luke 3:7). He showed how the law extended to the words and thoughts of men (Matthew 3:8-9). He counselled circumspection in the walks of ordinary life, with a view to the final account. Thus he aroused the consciences of the people.
2. He made a demand for immediate repentance, and its fruits in a new life Matthew 3:2).
3. He heralded Jesus as the Messiah predicted of old (Matthew 3:3). In this way he connected Moses with Christ. For himself he took pains to withdraw and resist every claim (John 1:20). Thus he gave a forward look to all his denunciations of sin in view of the true baptism cleansing from it.
4. He announced the special office of Jesus as the Redeemer of men. Thus he prepared the way for a gospel which based all its invitations of peace on the doctrine of sacrifice.
II. WHAT DID JESUS TEACH WHEN IT CAME TO HIS TURN?
1. Christ testified to the entire accuracy of John’s doctrine. He accepted the ministry of His forerunner without one question.
2. He proclaimed the full necessity of an atonement, Not even John exceeded Christ in denouncing sin and requiring renewal of heart.
3. He declared that the necessary sacrifice was now to be accomplished by Himself (verse 16).
4. He thus raised no new issues between man and God; but rather narrowed all the old into one: He made it clear that faith was the instrument of salvation (Chronicles 6:28, 29). He offered the freest gospel, but He left no chance of mistake to those who might suppose a simple issue was a weak one (verse 18; Mark 16:16).
III. THE ORDER BETWEEN THE TEACHING OF JOHN AND JESUS. John’s came earliest in fact and logical necessity.
1. The historic position of the two men is enough to show all that is here claimed. Our Lord’s life was part of His teachings, and each step depended on whatever steps went before. John’s work was a necessary and solemn prerequisite to the work of Jesus.
2. Their methods of procedure were similar, John presented the law first, then the gospel; but his of was was plainly to press the law into prominence. Jesus presented the law first, then the gospel: but His office was to bring the gospel into prominence. In both cases the law came earliest.
3. The conclusion, therefore, is inevitable. Law work precedes gospel work in all God’s dealing with souls.
IV. PRACTICAL INFERENCES.
1. We see why religious instruction sometimes proves inefficacious; Jesus is preached without John. The Lord does not seem in the still, small voice, because men miss the preparation of wind, earthquake, and fire.
2. Why inquirers are so slow in finding peace. There has been nothing to awake conscience.
3. Why there is so much of unrest and misgiving among Christ’s people. They have no intelligent sense of Christ’s loyal work in bearing the curse of the law for them.
4. Why backsliding is so frequent as the sin of converts. Somebody has been daubing them with untempered mortar.
5. We see how the new life begins and continues according to the revealed Romans 5:1-2; Rom_8:1; Rom_8:3). (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
He that hath the bride is the bridegroom, but the friend of the bridegroom … standeth and heareth
The Bridegroom and His friend
THE PECULIAR TOUCHES IN THE BAPTIST’S PORTRAIT HERE EXHIBITED.
I. Elsewhere he appears like Elijah flashing in terrific flames of anger and rebuke in the sins of the age; another Moses with a stern countenance bearing the table of God’s law. Here we find him, after he had baptized the Lord, shining with reflected rays such as streamed from the dove-like glory. It is an evangelical lustre which encircles him now. He is more apostle than prophet. His words are inspired with Christian faith.
2. In other passages he appears as an ascetic. He dwells in the desert. His disciples fast. He carries the burden of the Lord. Here he rejoices greatly, because of the Bridegroom’s voice. The Man of Sorrows rejoiced in Spirit; so also did His forerunner here.
3. Elsewhere the Baptist is a popular preacher. People went in crowds, not merely to listen to, but to live with the great revivalist. In all such excitement there is a power of reaction upon the author of it. He gathers back in his own soul the influences which, torrent like, have been rushing out of him, but when the ebb comes and the congregations thin; when another and greater prophet eclipses the lesser, whose mission has been fulfilled, is not that an hour of trial? testing the purity an disinterestedness of him whose popularity is on the wane. John was paling before the brighter light, and some reminded him of the change going on. How noble was his conduct! What an example for ministers and all men!
II. THE REFERENCE OF THE TEXT TO CHRIST AND CHRISTIAN MINISTERS IN GENERAL.
1. The relation which Christ sustains to the Church. This imagery has been abused, but there is a precious truth in it which the evangelist loved to expound (Revelation 19:6-9). Christ’s love to His people is pure, intense, everlasting, expressed in a covenant inviolable as the marriage bond. He gave Himself for them; all He is and has is made over to them, and the due response on their part is the consecration of their hearts and lives to Him.
2. The true minister of Christ is the friend of the Bridegroom. Christ’s disciples are more than servants--servants lifted up into the sphere of friendship; and never does a preacher fulfil his office in a more beautiful way than when he feels that he is not only in service, but in fellowship--not only that he has an obligation but a privilege, “He standeth and heareth.” The minister of the gospel is a listener and an echo. He catches voices from the other world, and repeats them--like Samuel “Speak Lord!” etc., like David, “Come all ye that fear God”; like the Cherubim bending over the ark to learn “things which the angels desire to look into”; like the angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach.
3. In reference to the Divine Bridegroom, the minister’s motto should ever be, “He must increase, and I must decrease,” words which testify to the growing glory of Christ and the disposition of faithful friends to lose themselves in Him.
The Bridegroom and Bride with their retinue
I. HERE IS AN INTERESTING PORTRAITURE OF CHRIST AND HIS CHURCH AS THE GLORIOUS BRIDEGROOM AND HIS ILLUSTRIOUS BRIDE.
1. Christ is the Bridegroom (Psalms 45:1-17.).
2. The Church the Bride (J. Stoughton, D. D.)
3. The union of the Bridegroom and the Bride. “He that hast.” Which has reference to the fact that she is Christ’s
4. The entireness of the union.
II. A STRIKING REPRESENTATION OF A PART OF THE BRIDEGROOM’S RETINUE. John well deserved to be called the friend of Christ, in that he was wholly devoted to the interests of his Master. He represents the Christian ministry.
1. In its character. A minister should be the friend of Christ. Can those be such who deny His Divinity and outrage His laws?
2. In its duties. To “hear the Bridegroom’s voice,” receive His instructions, and carry them into execution.
3. Its pleasures. “He rejoiceth greatly.” These pleasures are not those of literature, science, art, etc., but,
Christ the Bridegroom of the Church
As such He is represented throughout the Scripture (Matthew 25:1-46.; Ephesians 5:1-33.; Song of Solomon, and Revelation in particular).
I. A BRIDEGROOM IS NOT SATISFIED WITH THE STATE IN WHICH HE IS, BUT DESIRES TO EXCHANGE IT AND BE MARRIED TO ANOTHER. SO the Lord of Glory was not satisfied to be alone. He was not complete until “the fulness of His body” was united to Him in everlasting and wedded love.
II. A BRIDEGROOM, IF A DUTIFUL AND AFFECTIONATE SON, CONSULTS CONFIDENTIALLY WITH HIS PARENTS. So the Son of God “came forth from the leather,” “not to do His own will, but the will of Him that sent Him.”
III. AN OBJECT OF AFFECTION IS NECESSARILY AND NATURALLY FIXED UPON BY THE BRIDEGROOM, WHOSE AFFECTIONS HE DESIRES TO WED TO HIMSELF. Christ fastened His love not on angels but on sinners (Deuteronomy 7:1-26.). The earthly bridegroom, however, fastens his affection on something that is attractive, and loves because there is something worthy of his love.
IV. WHEN THE BRIDEGROOM HAS FOUND THE OBJECT OF HIS AFFECTIONS HE NATURALLY VISITS HER, ARRAYS HIMSELF IN SUITABLE APPAREL, AND COURTS HER FELLOWSHIP AND SOCIETY. Christ came from the height of glory to woo His Bride.
V. WHEN A BRIDEGROOM GOES TO COURT HIS BRIDE, HE NATURALLY ASKS HER IF HER AFFECTIONS ARE DISENGAGED and if they are engaged to one unworthy of her, warns her of the consequences. So Christ implores His Church to disengage herself from the world.
VI. THE BRIDEGROOM USES ARGUMENTS TO INDUCE THE BRIDE TO ACCEPT HIS OFFERS. So our Lord tells His bride of the dowry wherewith He will enrich her, and the heaven He will make her home.
VII. THE BRIDEGROOM WILL WAIT LONG BEFORE HE GIVES OVER. Christ stands at the door and knocks.
VIII. THE TRUE BRIDEGROOM SEEKS THE BRIDE NOT FOR HER PORTION, BUT HERSELF. This must be the case with Christ; for our very righteousness is but as filthy rags.
IX. IF REPULSED, THE BRIDEGROOM WILL USE VARIOUS PLANS AND MEANS TO INDUCE HIS DESIRED BRIDE TO COMPLY WITH HIS REQUEST.
1. He will employ friends, as Christ does His ministers.
2. He will send letters full of persuasive reasoning. Christ sends His gospels.
3. He will send love tokens. Christ has given us Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
In conclusion: notice some points of difference between an earthly and the heavenly bridegroom.
1. In this world there is much of self to determine the choice of a man--to render life more happy, etc. But Christ was wholly disinterested.
2. In this world, when a bridegroom has found his bride, he cannot add one feature to her beauty or accomplishments; but Christ, when He takes His bride, adds to her all the glories of heaven, while He removes from her all traces of earth.
3. In this world the love of the bridegroom, who is most affectionate at first, may cool by years. Christ “having loved His own, loves them unto the end.” Mark, then
The Bridegroom and the Bride
I. THE PRIVILEGE OF CHRIST. Christ, as is proper to Him, is the Head and Husband of the Church. A bride hath but one bridegroom; a wife but one husband (Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18; Hosea 1:11). Christ has this right by virtue of redemption. As the Israelites had a right to marry their redeemed captives (Deuteronomy 21:1-23.), so Christ, having redeemed us from the law (Romans 7:1-25.), hath thereby a right to espouse us to Himself.
II. THE PRIVILEGE OF THE CHURCH. The union between Christ and the Church is not imaginary, but real (Genesis 2:23-24, cf. Ephesians 5:30-32). And, therefore, as in marriage, to show the nearness of it, the name of the husband is given to the wife (Isaiah 4:1), so the name ofChrist is given to the Church (1 Corinthians 12:12).
III. THE FURTHER OPENING OF THIS DOCTRINE.
1. How this contract and marriage is made up. By the mutual consent of both parties
(a) By so securing our nature that there might be congruity and correspondence (Hebrews 2:11).
2. The dowry and jointure--“All things” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23; Ephesians 5:30; Romans 8:32). Whatsoever the husband hath the wife hath.
3. The duties of the bride.
(a) Forsaking Him not in any afflictions.
(b) Admitting no strange love.
IV. THE MINISTERS PRIVILEGE AND DUTY.
1. TO offer and persuade the marriage to the Church.
2. To fit and prepare the Church for Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2).
3. To hold fast the Church to Christ, being jealous over her for Christ’s 2 Corinthians 11:2-3).
4. If the Church break her marriage covenant, to labour to reduce her affections again to Christ (Jeremiah 3:1).
5. To rejoice to hear the bridegroom’s voice, and to make way for Him. (J. Dyke.)
The royal espousals
I. THE SPOUSE IS CHRIST.
II. THE WEDLOCK IS FAITH.
III. THE PLACE OF THE WEDLOCK is the Church.
IV. THE PLEDGE of it remission of sins, and the fellowship of the Spirit.
V. THE CONSUMMATION--eternal life.
The joy of the bride
I. THE PARTIES SPOKEN OF.
1. The bride--the Church (Revelation 21:2; Hosea 2:19; Song of Solomon 4:9).
(2) Notrich. No tempting dowry does she bring. She owes ten thousand talents, and he who takes her must answer for all she owes.
2. The Bridegroom--Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 11:2; Matthew 25:1; Song of Solomon passim).
II. THE DOCTRINE concerning the parties spoken of--the bridegroom hath the bride.
1. By destination. In some countries brides are betrothed as children: in this case the bride was betrothed before she was born. Hence, the Son of God was glad when the earth was made. He rejoiced over the spot which was to be the birthplace of His spouse, to which He was to come in due time to seek her, and whisper the astonishing avowal, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love.” This marriage, at any rate, was “made in heaven.”
2. By His own choice. A bride by destination is not always the bridegroom’s choice. King’s sons are often obliged to marry against their choice. A bride by destination merely may, therefore, well have misgivings. But here is no constraint on the bridegroom, “The Lord hath chosen Zion.”
3. By purchase. An eastern usage is for a bridegroom to pay a price for a bride, e.g., Jacob. So Christ purchased the Church. Like Jacob, He became a willing servant. The years of service for Rachel seemed unto Jacob but a few days for the love he had to her. So Christ, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the Cross. By the service of pain and death He bought His Church “with a price.”
4. By preparation. Esther’s preparation lasted a year. So with the Daughter of Zion. The grace of the Holy Spirit is the oil of myrrh, etc., by which she is purified, and becomes beautiful. This preparation is by the bridegroom as well as for Him. His the fountain that washes every stain, and the clothing of wrought gold. By Him she is sanctified that He may present her unto Himself a glorious Church.
5. By mutual contract. When the day of espousals, the day of conversion comes, it is a day of secret interchanges of love never to be forgotten. What are the stipulations?
(1) On the bride’s part: To renounce and reject all Christ’s rivals, sin, the world, and the flesh, and to love Him with her undivided heart.
(a) He endows her with all He is and has.
(b) He engages to visit her, and it is no fault of His if He is not at her side at all times.
(c) He engages to provide for all her wants.
(d) He engages to defend her.
(e) He engages to take her home with Him for ever in the many mansions of His Father’s house. (Andrew Grey.)
The friend of the bridegroom
No simile could have been more beautiful and true. In the drama of Syrian love and marriage, the friend of the bridegroom plays a conspicuous part, doing kindly, unselfish service; yet earning no other reward than that of feeling how much he has added to the happiness of a man whom he loves. Sometimes this friend of the bridegroom has to select the bride. At all times he has had to take the oaths of espousal, and to present the mohar, the bridal gift. For the virgin’s year, separating the act of betrothal from that of the bringing home, he is the only messenger between youth and maid. With many a laugh and jest., with many a sign and token, he had to pass from the unknown husband to the unknown wife; watching over their common rights, and feeding with his praises their mutual love; for during that virgin’s year, the husband, though he may possess much of a husband’s power, and may even put his wife to death for wrongs against his bed, is never allowed to see her face. His married joy and sorrow come to him only through his chosen friend. Until the day of bringing home, when the veil of the bride is to be lifted up, and with a cry of rapture the husband is allowed to gaze into her eyes and kiss her on the mouth, the function of the bridegroom’s friend knows no pause. Then the bridegroom’s heart is glad, and the friend rejoices when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. (Dixon’s “Holy Land.”)
The friend of the bridegroom
John was fitly called a friend to this Kingly Bridegroom for four reasons. First, ex castitate, for his chastity Proverbs 22:11). John was so “ pure in heart,” and “gracious in speech,” that he had the love of the Bridegroom Christ, though, for the same cause, he felt the wrath of the adulterer Herod. Secondly, ex militudine morum. Likeness of manners makes friendship. They were so like, that they were often taken for one the other. They were both valde humiles, very humble (comp. Psalms 22:7, with St. John 1:23), yet a “worm” hath some substance; “a voice” is in a manner nothing. Thirdly, they were friends ex similitudine voluntatis, they both willed the same thing (comp. S. Mark 1:15, with St. Matthew 3:2, and St. Mark 10:19, with St. Luke 3:13-14). Their faces looked one towards another Exodus 25:20), and they embraced each other with their wings; and John (Angelus ante faciem) looked with joy on the face of the great Angel, embracing His doctrine, and agreeing with Him in all things. Fourthly, He was the Bridegroom’s friend ex-officio, by his place: for as the Paranymphus (so the fathers call John) prepares the bride, with all fitting instruction and ornament, against her spouse come to marry her, so John came to instruct, adorn, and fit the Church for the receiving of her Living Spouse, Christ Jesus. (W. Austin.)
Christ the bride- groom announced by prophecy
Such a Bridegroom all the prophets had, in one form of speech or another, been discoursing of. They had proved that they were dealing in no metaphors--pouring out no Oriental rhapsodies; for their revelation of Him had been connected with the homeliest exhortations to domestic union and purity; they had affirmed the relation of the particular husband and wife to have its foundation in this higher relation; they had treated all branches of the marriage vow as indications and results of the adultery of the race to its unseen husband. And though the race meant in their minds Israel, the people whom God had chosen, and with whom He had made a covenant, yet their language was always too large for their limitations. When the King, who was to reign over the Gentiles, should be revealed as the glory of His people Israel, He would certainly be revealed as the Light to lighten all the nations; i.e, whensoever He appeared as the Christ of God, He would certainly appear as the Bridegroom of humanity. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)
Christ the Bridegroom
As a man leaves his father and mother that he may join himself to his wife, so Christ surrenders His heavenly glory that He may become one flesh with His Church: He did it when He became flesh, and He does it still in the Lord’s Supper, until He comes fully to satisfy the bride’s longing for Him. Oh, what will it be when on that day the cry is made: “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh!” (R. Besser, D. D.)
The love of Christ in espousing the Church
It magnifies the pure and endless love of Christ towards His Church, that He should so love us, as to make us His beloved spouse. Men marry commonly either for beauty, or person, or wealth, or parentage. Beauty often sways men’s affections, where nought else. And where beauty and person are wanting, yet wealth and riches will mend all. Yet where all these are wanting, yet sometimes good manners, education, nature, and grace are means to make women gracious in men’s eyes, and these are spokesmen to woo for them. All these, or some of these, commonly are the cement of men’s affections. But, behold, Christ’s love is pure love; we had nothing in us to move Him, or win or woo Him, neither person, parts, portion, beauty or grace in us to draw His affections (Hosea 2:19). His own mercy was our spokesman; His compassion of our woe wooed for us. Not our parentage (Ezekiel 16:3), not our wealth or credit (Ezekiel 16:5), not our beauty. See what goodly fair pieces we were (Ezekiel 16:6). In every one argument of loathing, and cause of distaste. He loved not us because we loved Him first, for we hated Him: not for our portion, for we were miserable, and poor, and naked (Revelation 3:1-22.). Not for our beauty (Revelation 3:17; Ezekiel 16:7). (J. Dyke.)
The purpose of being
1. Every man has his own life-work as truly as the Baptist had his.
2. The importance of knowing what this is is obvious.
3. This, moreover, is
I. THE JOY OF HAVING DONE SOME TRUE THING. Our sleep is more restful after a day of worthy toil. The man who works apart from the Divine plan does nothing satisfactory or satisfying. Our Master found work most joyous--“My meat is to do,” etc.
II. THE JOY OF HAVING DONE OUR OWN WORK. There is blessedness in knowing that we are filling the place appointed by God, however lowly Galatians 6:4).
III. THE JOY OF ANTICIPATING OUR REWARD. Much of this is reaped in this world, but most is “reserved in heaven” for those who are faithful on earth.
IV. THE JOY OF WITNESSING THE INFLUENCE OF OUR WORK, in the comfort of the sorrowful, the strengthening of the weak, the saving of the lost.
V. THE JOY OF HAVING DONE SOMETHING IN WORKING OUT THE PLAN OF GOD. That plan, the restoration of fallen humanity, seems far too magnificent for us to take any part in it. Yet this is, and will through eternity be, the Christian worker’s joy. (W. Jones.)
John’s joy at His Master’s increase
Envy is a pain and torment in the heart at the sight of superior excellence and happiness. It lamest dangerous. “For envy “ our Master was delivered up. We find it among good people. The disciples of John were envious for their Master. We are to guard against this and subdue it, and are incited thereto by the noble example of the Baptist.
I. WHAT ARE WE TO UNDERSTAND WHEN JOHN SAYS, “HE MUST INCREASE.”
1. That He would increase in the esteem and affection of all who knew Him.
2. That Be would increase in the number of His followers and the extent of His empire.
3. That the happiness of Christ’s subjects would increase.
II. BY WHAT MEANS ARE THE INTERESTS OF CHRIST AND HIS KINGDOM PROMOTED.
1. By the diffusion of knowledge.
2. By the preaching of the gospel.
3. By the influences of the Holy Spirit.
III. HOW DO WE KNOW THAT HE MUST INCREASE?
1. Because of the natural tendency of religion itself.
2. Because of the zealous efforts of Christ’s people.
3. Because the Lord has said it.
IV. How is THE PROSPECT OF THE INCREASE OF CHRIST’S KINGDOM A SOURCE OF JOY.
1. Satan does not rejoice, nor infidels, wicked men, nor even nominal professors. It affords true joy however to--
2. All who are become true converts of Christ.
3. All God’s people.
4. All Christ’s ministers.
5. The angels of God.
6. Jesus Himself.
1. A word to all enemies of Christ--you cannot oppose Christ with success, and without injury.
2. A word to the friends of Christ--how encouraging to know that we follow a Captain who shall not fail nor be discouraged.
3. A word to ministers
He must increase, but I must decrease.
I. JOHN’S MAGNANIMITY. His character was here put to the proof
1. For it is natural to envy the growing reputation of others, and to be jealous when it seems likely to trench upon our own. We speak, and justly, of this as littleness of mind; but it belongs to most, if not to all; and he wins a fine triumph who can be contented, provided that the cause of God be advanced. In God’s service, by its very nature, God’s glory, and not personal distinction and aggrandisement, is the thing aimed at; and there is therefore ground for expecting, if this end is reached, there will be gladness in all Christians, whoever may be the honoured agent. Alas, for the infirmity of human nature I
2. It is here that St. John’s character is displayed under its most striking aspect. We can admire him as he lives a severe life in the desert, and as he stands before Herod; but nowhere does he appear so transcendently great as here.
II. THE TRUTHS WHICH JOHN INTENDED TO CONVEY.
1. The temporary character of his own mission, and the enduring character of Christ’s. He well knew that he had not taught the truths that were to be revealed under the new dispensation; that his baptism had been but introductory; that the mortification of the flesh and the performance of certain duties which he had urged could not secure men from wrath; and that, consequently, unless he were to be followed by one charged with a clear message of mercy, his own would be fruitless and leave the world where he found it. And, therefore, it was far from his wish that he should not be displaced by Christ. It was his glory to feel that when the Sun of Righteousness, to which he had served as the morning star, should arise, he himself would decline and sink out of sight.
2. Personal religion: what it is, and how alone it can flourish. The Gospel is a system, constructed on purpose to abase the sinner and exalt the Saviour. The glories of Christ are discerned in the same degree as our own vileness and depravity. John’s confession is what every true Christian must say. The sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice, the cleansing power of His blood, the prevalence of His intercession--these must be increasingly recognized. Though He cannot become greater in Himself, He must become greater in our esteem.
3. The words are prophetic. He echoed the prediction of Isaiah: “Of the increase of His government, there shall be no end.” Here we launch on an ocean without a shore. (H. Melville, B. D.)
The servant and the Son
I. THE UNCONSCIOUS GREATNESS OF THE SERVANT.
1. His lofty contentment (John 3:27, cf. 1 Chronicles 29:14; Psalms 129:1-2; Daniel 4:35; Acts 17:26) a maxim of universal application, in the realm of nature (Romans 11:36) and in the sphere of grace (1 Corinthians 4:7; 1Co_12:6; James 1:17); specially significant with reference to individual success, in the world (Psalms 57:2), in the Church (2 Corinthians 3:5). Christ’s popularity, so far from exciting John to jealousy, filled him with holy peace; exhibiting the spirit afterwards exemplified by Christ (Matthew 11:26; Mat_26:39) and by Paul (Acts 21:14).
2. His profound humility (verse 28). This man, who was in danger of being mistaken for the Messiah, and whom Christ pronounces the greatest of men, forms the most lowly estimate of himself throughout, in chap. 1. as here.
3. His absolute unselfishness (John 1:29). Had he been inflamed with ambition, he could have played the role of a Messianic pretender, and snatched a crown; or have founded a rabbinical school; or at least drawn around him an independent gathering. Instead of this, the end of his aspiration and effort was to espouse the nation to its Lover, and then stand aside. John pleased not himself, but lived for his Lord.
4. His cheerful resignation (verse 30). This was just what he desired, for what he had lived; he could, therefore, view Christ’s popularity and his own supercession with delight.
II. THE TRANSCENDENT GLORY OF THE SON (verse 31-36).
1. His pre-existent Being. The historical appearing cannot be explained on natural principles.
2. His universal sovereignty “above all”--all persons, all things--in the dignity of His person, the elevation of His character, the vastness of His power, the absoluteness of His authority and sway. They are His creatures, for He made them (chap. 1:3, 10; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:2); His property (verse 35); His subjects (Psalms 8:6; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28; Ephesians 1:22; Hebrews 2:8).
3. HIS AUTHORITATIVE TESTIMONY. John exhibits this as resting on three things, which mark him off from ordinary witness bearers:
4. His supreme Divinity, implied in what has already been said and in His Sonship.
5. His twofold work.
1. The secret of true greatness: humility before Christ.
2. The insignificance of human glory compared with that of Christ.
3. The dignity of ministerial service: that of acting as Christ’s friend.
4. The pathway to renown: to efface one’s self for the sake of
Christ. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
The increase of Christ
I. WHY DO WE, IN THE FACE OF UNBELIEF AND ADVERSE CRITICISM, ENDORSE THE ASSERTION THAT CHRIST MUST INCREASE?
1. Because this is the design of God the Father. He has commissioned His Son to destroy the works of the devil, and to fill the world with His glory Isaiah 9:7; Psalms 2:7-8; Philippians 2:10). Failure in this is impossible. For what Divine design has failed?
(1) When our first parents sinned, He promised a Deliverer. Let the manger, the cross, and the open tomb say whether He failed.
2. Because the forces employed are adequate.
3. The Holy Scriptures. Ask Mohammedanism why it fears the Bible? Because the Koran, when it comes in contact with it, loses its power. Ask Romanism. Because the power of priestcraft dies in its presence, and the chains of superstition are sundered. Is the Bible a power? Ask the fires in which its enemies have endeavored to burn it. While the writings of Porphyry, Julian, Hume, Voltaire, are lost or forgotten, where is the Bible? Wherever there is light. These, with their adjuncts, are adequate to the consummation of the text.
II. WHAT DOES THIS INCREASE MEAN?
1. Individual felicity. Examine the experience of all who have fully embraced Christ. With this increase the circle of those enjoying happiness will extend.
2. Social elevation. The increase of Christ subdues the savage in man’s breast, make marriage honourable, child-life happy, elevates woman, liberates the slave, provides refuges for the homeless, etc.
3. National advancement. Look at once famous empires, and compare them with the condition of countries in which Christ has increase.
III. HOW IS THIS INCREASE TO BE SECURED?
1. By individual effort and influence (John 1:40-51). One of the conditions of Christ’s increase in the heart is to contribute to His increase in the world.
2. By organised advance upon the strongholds of darkness. (A. B. Chambers, LL. B.)
John was one of God’s nobility. Christ was deeply impressed with his intellectual, moral, and even professional greatness. The commanding proof of this is his state of heart and his conduct relative to the Messiah. The popularity of Jesus perplexed and annoyed John’s disciples, but it made him profoundly glad. As a friend of the Bridegroom, the Bridegroom’s voice was to him the sweetest music.
I. “I MUST DECREASE.” John was not thinking of himself
1. As subject to the law of decay and death. We are all subject to that, good and bad; and in the article of temporal death there was no difference between John and Jesus.
2. As an immortal being. His path shone more and more unto the perfect day. We can put no limit to the growth of holy intelligencies.
3. As being held in lesser esteem in the future. He is thought as highly of now as he was then; and the Master passed upon him the highest eulogium, and this Christians accept.
4. But that his authority and influence as the forerunner, or a religious reformer, would of necessity be taken up and absorbed by the higher authority and influence of the Messiah. After Christ’s entrance, there was nothing for John but to point to him. “Behold the Lamb of God” now took the place of “Repent.” Christ’s rise was unavoidably John’s fall; and to no one was it clearer or more welcome than John. It would have been a serious thing for John as a sinner and as a forerunner had this not been the case. But his influence was only relatively lost as a river flowing into the sea.
II. “HE MUST INCREASE.” About this there is a glorious indefiniteness. John did not go into details as to the amount and manner. All he says is that it was a moral necessity.
1. When we take into account the marvellous progress already made, we can see that “Christ shall see the travail of his soul,” etc. The leaven must go working on. The issue of the great contest between Christ and Satan is not uncertain. “He must reign,” etc.
2. Some Christians cannot see this as they look on hindrances, corrupt institutions, depraved customs, false systems, inert and inconsistent Christians; but Christ must increase.
3. Not that God will ever compel men. All that the Gospel wants is a fair chance; and this it will eventually secure for itself.
4. The advance of Christianity is undoubted, although it has receded in certain places.
5. The real progress is much greater than the seeming progress. The atmosphere of certain countries has become impregnated with Christian elements, and their inhabitants cannot help breathing it.
6. Humanity needs Christ, and Christ is adapted to humanity. So much so, that the two must coalesce. A strong confirmation of the Baptist’s saying. (G. Cross.)
The increase of Christ
I. AN IRREFRAGABLE TRUTH.
1. That Christ must still increase would appear probable even though we had no express assurances of it.
2. But we have stronger grounds--the plain and unequivocal promises of God--and are therefore firmly persuaded. Listen to David (Psalms 22:27; Psa_72:8; Psa_27:11; Psa_86:9). To Isaiah (2:2, 40:5, 11:9). To Daniel (7:13, 14, 27). To Malachi (1:11). To John (Revelation 14:6; Rev_11:15).
3. Can these promises fail? If so; owing to what? Want of wisdom? Want of power? Want of faithfulness? (Numbers 23:19).
4. Resting, then, on the promises of a God omniscient, almighty, faithful, the Church may bid defiance to all her enemies (Isaiah 8:9-10).
II. AS A SOURCE OF CONSOLATION.
1. Can a man inflamed with love to God fail to be grieved as he views the idolatry of the heathen and the sins of nominal Christendom? His mind can find no rest but in the assurance of the increase of Christ.
2. This truth is no less effectual to heal those wounds which proceed from love to the Saviour as it contemplates His present wide-spread rejection.
3. The lover of mankind is comforted by the thought that the increase of Christ will exterminate the rampant miseries over which he groans.
III. A DIRECTORY OF DUTY.
1. We should pray earnestly.
2. Labour diligently.
3. Give liberally. (E. D. Griffin, D. D.)
The increase of Christ
I. THE ULTIMATE CONVERSION OF THE WORLD TO CHRIST IS A MATTER OF INDUBITABLE CERTAINTY.
1. Many things render this probable.
2. The prophecies render it certain.
II. THIS GREAT MORAL REVOLUTION WILL BE ACCOMPLISHED BY ORDINARY MEANS OF HUMAN INSTRUMENTALITY UNDER THE BLESSING OF THE DIVINE SPIRIT.
1. Not by miracles.
2. Not by a Millennial dispensation.
3. But by the preaching of the gospel.
III. AMONG THE MEANS MISSIONARY SOCIETIES HOLD A HIGH AND DISTINGUISHED PLACE--not excluding individual efforts. (J. A. James.)
I. This is true of CHRIST HIMSELF--take His miracles, e.g.
beginning with water turned into wine and culminating at the Resurrection.
II. This is true of His CHURCH. At first a few persons meeting in an upper room, now in millions and still there is room. Increase will be promoted by
2. A good example.
III. This is true of CHRISTIANS. We must grow in grace. (H. J. W. Buxton, M. A.)
Great workers must be content to die and be replaced by others
It is a humbling lesson to human vanity and tends to cheek the growth of self-importance to consider how well the world will go on when we are laid in the dust and no longer partake in the direction of its affairs. Leaves fall in autumn! trees are felled in the spring! but the next vernal season renews the foliage. Another age replaces the veteran oak removed by the axe or the tempest, and the forest still presents its broad expanse and deep shade to the eye of the traveller. So it is with the Church of God. Its members and its ministers die; but others are baptised for the dead and fill up their vacant seats in the spiritual house. (J. A. James.)
John here figures himself by the moon, whose light wanes and decreases when the month is drawing to a close, and when the morning light of the sun begins to break forth; and he figures Jesus Christ by the sun, which is to eclipse and destroy his brightness. John the Baptist, the witness of Jesus Christ, is justly figured by the moon, which is called the faithful witness in heaven; being the witness to the sun’s existence, and of his future coming, whereas it is not yet seen, because it shines by a borrowed light, and except for the sun’s existence and original light, it would not itself shine, and would be as nothing. So when, and as soon as the day begins to spring, the light of the moon fades and is invisible, and all eyes which were turned to it, and delighted in it, are now at once turned to the sun itself, as all men now came to Christ to be baptized, who before delighted and were satisfied to be baptized with John’s baptism. (S. R. Bosanquet.)
Opinions of self
Opinion of ourselves is like the casting of a shadow, which is always longest when the sun is at the greatest distance; but by the degrees that the sun approaches the shadow still shortens, and under the direct meridian light it becomes none at all; it is so with our opinion of ourselves: whilst the good influences of God are the greatest distance from us, it is then always that we conceive best of ourselves; but still, as God approaches, the conceit lessens; till such time as we receive the fuller measures of His graces; and then we become absolutely voided, pure nothing in our own conceit, and God appears to be (as really He is) “All in all.” (Dean Young.)
Mr. Durham, a father of the Scottish Church was walking one Sabbath to his place of worship with a much admired young minister who was to officiate in one adjoining. Multitudes were thronging into the one, and only a few into the other. “Brother,” said he to his young friend, “you will have a crowded church to-day.” “Truly,” said the other, “they are greatly to blame who leave you and come to me. “Not so, dear brother,” replied Mr. Durham; “for a minister can receive no such honour and success in his ministry except it be given him from heaven. I rejoice that Christ is preached, and that His kingdom and interests are gaining ground, though my estimation in people’s hearts should decrease; for I am content to be anything, so that Christ may be all in all.” (W. Baxendale.)
The certain increase of the glory and kingdom of Jesus
I. IT IS PROPOSED TO CONSIDER THE NATURE OF THAT INCREASE, WHICH THE BAPTIST CONFIDENTLY EXPECTED SHOULD ATTEND HIS BLESSED LORD. l, It was announced, that “He must increase”; and, lo! in the midst of poverty and reproach, of apparent weakness, and of cruel sufferings, Jesus exhibited an increasing display of Godlike fortitude and resolution; of spotless purity and rectitude; of infinite zeal for His Father’s honour; and of the riches of grace and compassion for wretched ruined man.
2. On these transactions all the future increase of His kingdom absolutely depended. But now the purchase of redemption has been completed, what shall prevent the Saviour from receiving His full reward (John 12:23-24)?
3. Well, then, might John the Baptist affirm, “He must increase,” when he foresaw that His shameful death would be followed by so glorious a resurrection.
4. And how much more did the transactions of Pentecost justify this blessed prediction.
II. LET ME PROCEED TO LAY BEFORE YOU SOME CONSIDERATIONS WHICH MAY CONFIRM OUR FAITH IN THE ASSURED EXPECTATION THAT HE MUST INCREASE.
1. Because He is the Son of God, in the highest and most absolute sense, and therefore heir of all things.
2. We are persuaded, therefore, that He must increase, because He hath all power to overcome every enemy that opposeth His blessed reign.
3. He must increase, for the decrees of heaven ascertain the great event.
4. A great part of Scripture consists of promises of the increase of the Messiah’s kingdom, and it is evident that the season of their chief accomplishment is yet future (see Isaiah 40:1-31; Isa_60:1-22.).
5. We conclude that Jesus must increase, since this world and all others were “made by Him, and for Him.” (J. Ryland, D. D.)
Christ’s increase, and our decrease
I. “HE MUST INCREASE.” In one sense the words do not apply. The Saviour is God, very God of very God, and there can be no increase to that which is already infinite. He is also perfect man, without spot or imperfection, but it was in His office of Mediator, and in the glories of His mediatorial kingdom, that the Saviour was capable of increase. The greatness and glory of His work was to be manifested; the love which promoted, and the wisdom which carried out, the wondrous plan of salvation, were to be revealed, and fresh conquests to be achieved. Through faith in a crucified, yet risen and ascended Saviour, His people also shall prevail, yea, and be made more than conquerors through Him that loved them; and then as one nation after another has been brought into professed subjection to Christ, and as soul after soul has been rescued from Satan and brought into the glorious liberty of the children of God, we see the fulfilment of the words, “He must increase.”
II. “I MUST DECREASE.” We have already noticed, that in a high and important sense, the increase of Christ is the increase of His people--they are concerned in the triumphs of His grace, and are to share His glory. But there is also a sense in which the believer in Christ, who is rejoicing in his Lord, and in the full salvation he has secured, can join in these words of the Baptist, “I must decrease.” Yes, there is the carnal self, that which is of the earth, earthy--the old man, the old nature--which still retains so much of power, even in the regene rate, that which the believer desires daily to crucify, the flesh with its affections and lusts. All this is to decrease, and finally--although not entirely until he has put off the body of this death--to disappear. Surely we greatly need to decrease in self-esteem, in pride,in carnality, in all that tends to hinder us in our Christian life, and bring dishonour on our Christian profession. We are to decrease in having self as the all-engrossing object. New hopes and desires are to have fuller power over us; the great motive of the love of Christ is to have its place, constraining, compelling, drawing. Opportunities of usefulness, and of actively working for God, may also be diminished, and in failing strength and energies the Christian reads the words, “I must decrease.” The work of Christ, indeed, will not suffer. (J. H. Holford, M. A.)
He that cometh from above is above all.
Christ “above all” as a Teacher
I. IN THE SUBLIMITY OF HIS ORIGIN (John 3:1). All others, from Enoch to Malachi were “of the earth.”
II. IN THE CHARACTER OF HIS DOCTRINES. What does He teach?
1. The realities of which He Himself was conscious (verse 2) and not speculations.
2. Realities which were moral in their influence upon His hearers. They were not compelled to receive them, so many rejected Him. But those who believed Him had an assured consciousness that God was true (verse 33).
3. Realities which were pre-eminently Divine (verse 34): not the sciences, but God Himself, the Root and Branch, Centre and Circumference of all truth.
III. IS THE AFFECTION OF HIS FATHER (verse 35).
1. No teacher shared so much of the Divine love as Christ. The Father loveth all. All true teachers may expect a special share of this affection. But He loves Christ pre-eminently, and as He presents His Well-beloved He says, “Hear ye Him.”
2. No teacher deserved so much of the Divine love as Christ did. He never offended the Father or misrepresented Him in doctrine or conduct.
3. No teacher ever had such demonstrations of Divine love as Christ. “All things,” the administration of all blessings and the authority over all souls.
IV. IN THE EXTENT OF HIS ENDOWMENTS (verse 34). Other teachers had the Spirit in a limited degree; Christ fully. This is clear from the fact that He knew what was in man, and from His miracles. But He had more of the Spirit than the old prophets, as is manifest by comparing
1. Their theology with His.
2. Their spirit with His.
3. Their lives with His.
V. IS THE NECESSITY OF HIS MISSION. Faith in Him is essential to man’s eternal welfare (verse 36).
1. The faith He requires is faith in HIM: not merely in the facts of His history, or the truth of His prepositions, but in Himself as the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. No other teacher ever required this. To so trust the best of them would be ruin.
2. Faith in Him determines the destiny of the soul.
Christ is above all
Caesar is not Caesar still, nor Alexander Alexander still: but Jesus is Jesus still, and shall be for ever. (J. Donne.)
Christ is God as well as man
We have seen a copy of the Gospels and Epistles which was warranted free from all trace of the Trinity, but it was not the testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We beheld it and we received instruction. It did not want beauty, for the parables, and the Sermon on the Mount, and many a touching passage were still there. It looked like a coronation tapestry with all the golden threads torn out, or an exquisite mosaic from which some unscrupulous finger had abstracted the gems and left only the common stones. It was a casket without the pearl. It was a shrine without the Shekinah. And yet, after all, it was not sufficiently expurgated; for, after reading it, the thought would recur, How much easier to fabricate a Gnostic testament, exempt from all trace of our Lord’s humanity, than a Trinitarian testament ignoring His Divinity. (J. Hamilton, D. D.)
An earthly mind
As ducklings have always their bills in the mud, as swine are ever recking in the mire; like that fish in the gospel, either dumb or with nothing but money in their mouths. (J. Trapp.)
It is storied of Henry the Fourth of France, asking the Duke of Alva if he had observed the eclipses happening in that year? He answered, that he had so much business on earth, that he had no leisure to look up to heaven. A sad thing it is for men to be so bent, and their hearts so set on the things of this world, as not to cast up a look to the things that are in heaven; nay, not to regard though God brings heaven down to them in His Word and Sacraments. Yet so it is, most men are of this Spanish general’s mind; witness the oxen, the farms, the pleasures, the profits and preferments that men are so fast glued unto, that they have hardly leisure to entertain a thought of any goodness.
Christ’s testimony to be received
I. CHRIST’S UNIVERSAL SUPREMACY, WHICH EXCLUDES ALL COMPARISON WITH WHAT IS EARTHLY (John 3:31).
1. Christ was from above. Thence He came to His own. Of Him alone can this be asserted: a glory belonging to Him and not to another.
2. John was of the earth
3. Let us be impressed
II. THE DISTINCTIVE CHARACTER OF HIS TEACHING AND ITS GENERAL RESULT (verse 32).
1. Christ’s testimony is of what He has seen and heard (verse 11). It was direct without the intervention of a third party, as in the case of Moses and the prophets.
2. The general result
III. THE IMPORTANCE OF RECEIVING HIS TESTIMONY (verse 33).
1. God thus submits Himself to the judgments of men. They can have a full knowledge of His character in no other way. He demands, therefore, that they shall consider the testimony thus uttered.
2. Those who receive Christ and His doctrine find that they have to do with a true God. (A. Beith, D. D.)
What He hath seen and heard that He testifieth
John’s last testimony to Christ
I. THE DIVINENESS OF CHRIST’S TESTIMONY (verse 32).
II. THE UNBELIEF WITH WHICH CHRIST’S TESTIMONY WAS RECEIVED (verse, 82). “All men come to Him! Why no man believes Him!” The emotions aroused by John’s preaching of repentance and the Lamb of God had passed off; for were not His disciples setting Him up against His Lord? And it took Christ’s chosen ones three years to receive it. How differently a man counts who loves and adores Jesus from a mere hero worshipper. John would have not large crowds merely going after Jesus, but genuine believers.
III. THE APPRECIATION OF THOSE WHO DID BELIEVE IN ANY DEGREE (verse 33), like Andrew and John (John 1:40). This is a fine and simple account of faith in its nature. Some document is produced having legal authority behind it. Those who, believing in the King as true, will sign their names to it become entitled to certain privileges. Men go forward and append their signatures, realizing in so doing, “The privilege is mine.” But here is one who cannot write. He goes forward, seal in hand, and stamps it down, which is as good as signing. That is faith, stamping down one seal, with decisiveness, to that gospel text, saying as we do it, “That is true.”
IV. THE DIVINENESS OF CHRIST’S TEACHING REAFFIRMED (verse 34). “For” is emphatic. The reception and attestation of what Jesus spake was the reception and attestation of what God spake.
V. ANTICIPATION OF THE WORDS OF CHRIST HIMSELF (verse 35; cf. Matthew 11:27; Mat_28:18; Luke 10:22; Hebrews 2:8).
VI. WEAL OR WOE (verse 36).
1. True faith is faith in the true thing. “On the Son”--atonement, resurrection, and glory were yet to come Christ Himself the object of faith.
2. The wrath of God cannot abide in a being who has ceased to be. The Baptist warned men before to “flee from the wrath to come.”
3. Our relation or non-relation to Jesus Christ determines where we shall spend our eternity. (A. B. Grosart, D. D.)
Christ the Divine teacher
We notice the perfect originality and independence of His teaching. We have a great many men who are original, in the sense of being originators, within a certain boundary of educated thought. But the originality of Christ is uneducated. That He draws nothing from the stores of learning can be seen at a glance. The impression we have in reading His instructions justifies to the letter the language of His contemporaries, when they say, “This man hath never learned.” There is nothing in any of His allusions or forms of speech that indicates learning. Indeed, there is nothing in Him that belongs to His age or country--no one opinion, or task, or prejudice. The attempts that have been made, in a way of establishing His mere natural manhood, to show that He borrowed His sentiments from the Persians and the Eastern forms of religion, or that He had been intimate with the Essenes, and borrowed from them, or that He must have been acquainted with the schools and religions of Egypt, deriving His doctrine from them--all attempts of the kind having so palpably failed, as not even to require a deliberate answer. If He is simply a man, as we hear, then He is most certainly a new and singular kind of man, never before heard of; one who visibly is quite as great a miracle in the world as if He were not a man. We can see for ourselves, in the simple directness and freedom of His teachings, that whatever He advances is for Himself. Shakespeare, for instance, whom we name as being probably the most creative and original spirit the world has ever produced, one of the class, too, that are called self-made men, is yet tinged in all his works with human learning. His glory is, indeed, that so much of what is great in history and historic character lives and appears in his dramatic creations. He is the high-priest, we sometimes hear, of human nature. But Christ, understanding human nature so as to address it more skilfully than he, never draws from its historic treasures. He is the High Priest, rather, of the Divine nature, speaking as one that has come out from God, and has nothing to borrow from the world. It is not to be detected by any sign that the human sphere in which He moved imparted anything to Him. His teachings are just as full of Divine nature as Shakespeare’s of human. (H. Bushnell, D. D.)
Why men refuse Christ
Among those who stay away from Christ, who will not believe in Him, who will not come to Him, the motive of the chief part has ever been, that they are destitute of the consciousness of sin, and of all thoughts and wishes rising above the objects of the senses, or else that they love their sins, and are determined to cleave to them, in despite of all that God can do to draw them away. Others there are who will not believe in Christ through pride and self-righteousness. Others have involved themselves inextricably in the labyrinthine abstractions of a sceptical understanding. Some will say, in their high-swelling imaginations, that they need no Redeemer, no Ransom, no Reconciler, no Atonement, no Pardon--that they can find the way to God by themselves--that they can build up a tower of their own virtues, a grand and gorgeous tower, virtue above virtue, the top of which shall reach to heaven. Such men there have been more or less in all ages; and the way their devices have been baffled has ever been the same, by the confusion of tongues. They have been unable to understand one another’s language. When one of them has asked for bread, his neighbour has given him a stone; when asked for a fish, he has given a serpent; indifference and scorn, instead of sympathy and encouragement. The hand of each has been against his brother. There has been no unity of spirit amongst them, but variance and strife and railing: they have never entered into the bond of peace. This is the other form of sin by which men are kept away from Christ. The great mass stay away because their hearts are paralyzed and crumbled by carelessness and self-indulgence, or rotted by the cankering pleasures of sin; the few, because their hearts are hardened and stiffened by pride. (Archdeacon Hare.)
Many men are deaf to the charms of the gospel
A musical amateur of eminence, who had often observed Mr. Cadogan’s inattention to his performances, said to him one day, “Come, I am determined to make you feel the power of music; pay particular attention to this piece.” It was played. “Well, what do you say now?” “Just what I said before.” “What I can you hear this and not be charmed? I am surprised at your insensibility I Where are your ears?” “Bear with me, my lord,” replied Mr. Cadogan, “since I too have had my surprise; I have from the pulpit set before you the most striking and affecting truths; I have found notes that might have awaked the dead; I have said, Surely he will feel now; but you never seemed charmed with my music, though infinitely more interesting than yours. I too might have said--‘Where are his ears?’”
Few hearers saved
Though a gun be discharged at a whole flight of birds, there are but a few killed. Though the net be spread over the whole pond, but a few fishes are taken: so most hearers do busy their heads with their own sensual or worldly thoughts, and so escape the pain of the truth. (Train.)
Christ often refused
It is said of Handel, the great musician, that while composing the well-known oratorio of “The Messiah,” he was frequently found in tears, and that one day, while sobbing bitterly, it was found that the words which had broken down his spirit were these three words of the prophet Isaiah, “He was despised.” And yet this short saying wag abundantly fulfilled when Jesus came to show us His great love. (R. Brewin.)
The sureness of Christ’s testimony and its rejection
1. It is Christ’s prerogative to have the knowledge of Divine truths of Himself from the Father, and to have all others who know anything beholden to His bounty and illumination; for, His doctrine is, “what He hath seen and heard,” in a way peculiar to Him.
2. It sets out the bounty of Christ, that He doth not keep this knowledge, but discovereth it, that so sinners may have a sure guide and teacher, and the solemn testimony of an eye and ear witness, on which they may lean; for, “what He hath seen and heard, that He testifieth.” It is called a testifying both in respect of the certainty of the matter, and in respect of Christ’s earnest persuading of men to embrace it (Acts 18:5).
3. Christ’s gracious condescendence in revealing the counsel of God concerning man’s salvation, gets but ill entertainment in the world; the most part of men either not hearkening to Him, or not embracing His offer with respect, affection or faith, for no man (that is, very few or none in comparison of them who do otherwise, though some there are, John 3:33) receiveth His testimony. Let them hear it as they will, yet they do not receive nor embrace it as becometh; and therefore also it is called a testimony, as witnessing against them, that they receive not so certain a truth.
4. It ought and will be matter of regret to all the friends and servants of Christ, that His doctrine is so ill received in the world; for, whereas John’s disciples complained (verse 26) that all men came to Christ, He seeth rather cause to complain that no man receiveth His testimony. (G. Hutcheson.)
To Jesus nothing seems more natural and familiar than the heavenly state, when He discourses of it. It is like a prince, who having been educated in a splendid court, could speak with ease of many magnificent things, at the sudden view of which a peasant would be swallowed up in astonishment, and would find himself greatly embarrassed in an attempt to explain them to his equals at home. (Doddridge.)
He that hath received His testimony hath set to his seal that God is true
The sealed testimony
I. THE SAVIOUR’S TESTIMONY (Isaiah 55:4, cf. John 18:37; Revelation 1:5). Christ came into the world when it was enveloped in ignorance and begirt with the miasma of heathen superstitions and unconsecrated philosophies. Even the Jewish Church had lost its glory and a wretched formalism taken the place of spiritual religion. Christ came to give us a testimony which should be all-sufficient in reference to the way of salvation.
1. Its nature. It included
2. Its manner. Note
II. THE RIGHT MODE OF ITS RECEPTION.
1. Divine truth demands admittance into the heart. It first accosts the intellectual faculties, then accosts the conscience, but completely triumphs only when it enters the holiest of all. Human learning appeals only to the intelligence. Christ claims the heart.
2. Its impartation proceeds directly from Christ (Galatians 1:12; John 4:42; 2 Corinthians 10:5). The practical improvement of the process is that which make us solicitous for evidence of the work of God in the soul through the Spirit’s effectual conveyance of the Word.
3. We should rejoice in its reception, because the deliverance it works is so great, the blessings it imparts so vast, and the prospect it opens so excellent.
III. THE EFFECT ASCRIBED TO BELIEF IN IT. Just as unbelief is an imputation on the Divine veracity, so cordial, unprejudiced reception is a mark of adoption into His family. It liberates a man from harassments and doubts. The obedience of the heart leads after it conviction of mind John 7:17). The believer can set his seal over against the promise and affirm that “not one thing hath failed.” Many an ancient mark may be seen in the aged saint’s Bible showing that the promise has been fulfilled. (W. G. Lewis.)
The testimony and the seal
I. THE TRUE NOTION OF CHRIST’S DOCTRINE--IT IS A TESTIMONY.
1. The nature of it. A testimony is a sort of proof necessary in matters that cannot otherwise be decided by rational discourse.
2. The value of Christ’s testimony which will appear if we consider
(a) It is such a testimony as men need. Men need a religion that will allay their fears and satisfy their desires. The gospel provides pardon for sin and eternal peace and happiness.
(b) It has a fair correspondency with the principles of reason. That there is a wise, good, and powerful God; that men have sinned and become liable to punishment; that there are not hopes of freedom from this punishment but by satisfaction; that the universal soul must have higher and more abiding satisfactions than those afforded by the world.
(c) It has a convincing evidence in itself (2 Corinthians 4:2-4).
3. The use of it as a testimony.
II. THE RESPECT THAT IS DUE TO THIS TESTIMONY.
1. Hear it or regard it we must. For us to disregard it is the greatest affront that we can offer God (Matthew 22:5).
2. Understand it we must, or we do not receive it. A man must have it (John 14:21) in his judgment before he can keep it in his memory, heart, and conscience.
3. We must firmly consent to and acquiesce in this testimony (1 Timothy 1:15; John 6:69; Joh_17:8).
4. To embrace it with all affection (Acts 2:41).
5. To build our hope and confidence thereupon while we continue with patience in well-doing (Psalms 119:166; Luke 18:15).
III. HE THAT THUS RECEIVETH DOTH RATIFY THE TRUTH OF GOD and solemnly bear witness to it.
1. The manner of confirming. Doubtful things we do not confirm, but those things of which we are assured (1 Kings 21:8; Nehemiah 9:38; Esther 8:8; Jeremiah 32:18). But how can we confirm the truth of God? God’s truth is the same, and needeth not our confirmation, but He will put this honour upon us that we should honour His truth by our subscription (Romans 3:4). Our sealing is of great use
2. The matter confirmed--that God is true.
3. The use is to persuade us to so receive Christ’s testimony that we put to our seal that God is true.
Conclusion: In this scaling there are many things implied that most people want.
1. Spiritual evidence (1 Corinthians 2:14; Ephesians 1:17-18).
2. Some experience of the truth in comforting and changing the heart 1 John 1:1-2).
3. Confidence in temptations (Job 13:15).
4. Holiness (1 Thessalonians 1:5-7). (T. Manton, D. D.)
Christ’s testimony receive
I. THE TESTIMONY THAT HAS BEEN BORNE.
1. The testimony borne to Christ antecedently to the completion of His work.
2. The testimony which Christ bore Himself.
3. The testimony which came afterwards.
II. THE RECEPTION OF THE TESTIMONY.
1. It must be examined with precision, so that we may know what it is.
2. This reception embraces the admission of the things contained in it as true. As to the great matters in question, they are true or false; if false, let them be rejected; if true, let them be accepted as true.
3. There must be no hostility to it, because it is very possible that the testimony may be understood and accepted, and yet hated, as it is by the devils, as it was by the Jews. This is of the nature of the sin against the Holy Ghost.
4. There should be appreciation of the value, importance, and dignity of it.
5. It must be loved. “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness.”
6. There is a course of life and conduct to be adopted in accordance with the truth of the testimony.
III. Having received the testimony, we can SET TO OUR SEAL. A seal and signature are intended to authenticate a document and the thing which that document contains. We not calling God a liar, but, attesting the truth of the witness of the Lord Jesus, are said to “set to our seal that God is true.” But mark
1. The truth of God and the testimony of Christ are true irrespective of our seal. God cannot lie; and the matter for amazement is that God should condescend to receive our attestations.
2. Then let the signature be written. Bring in the document. What signatures are already there! Those of apostles, martyrs, etc.
3. If you put your signature to the truth of God, God will put His on thee.
Sealed unto Christ
I. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SEAL. The seal is one of the old legal forms that still survives, and gives a peculiar character to documents on which it is stamped. Let us note some of its characteristics.
1. As a necessity. In many cases an instrument without a seal is of none effect. The lawyer may draw up a will with the utmost care, but until the seal is affixed to the will the lawyer’s skill and the legator’s resolve count for nothing. So one may hear the gospel preached, but that is not sufficient. He must set to his seal the testimony--receive it, believe it, live in accordance with it.
2. As a personal distinction. In the old times few men knew how to write even their own names. They could do no more than make their mark, which was easily counterfeited; therefore each man who had occasion to use it, if possible possessed his own seal. Joseph was placed in charge of the king’s seal, and wherever he affixed it, it carried all the king’s authority with it. So religion is an intensely personal matter. Each must settle the great question of salvation for himself. No one can accept Christ for me. I must set to my seal that God is true.
3. As a finality. The ancient seal was often used to denote the conclusion of a matter. Daniel was told to seal up the prophecies--implying that they were finished. He that accepts Christ, accepts Him for all time. We enter into God’s service, not for a few years, not merely for a lifetime, but for eternity. “There is no discharge in that war.” We have set to our seal that God is true, once for all.
II. THE NATURE OF THE TESTIMONY. It is
1. An indictment. God charges us with violation of His law, and we are to plead guilty or not guilty. If we deny our guilt we reject the very first proposition with which the Saviour comes to us. Shall any one dare to do this? Nicodemus thought he had kept the law, but the Saviour told him that he must be born again, and Paul felt this when he wrote (Romans 7:9), “I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.”
2. Pardon. After the American civil war, when a general amnesty was offered, each man, to profit by the act, was required first to take the oath of allegiance. We are rebels against God; from Him alone can we look for pardon. Through Christ it is offered to every one, but it must be accepted before it becomes effective. We must set to our seal this testimony of pardon--take the oath of allegiance to God’s government.
3. A testament. If property comes into my possession by will, it is necessary that my name and a seal be affixed to the will before the properly is at my disposal. The testimony of the gospel is that God has made a testament for us. He not only grants us pardon, but peace and joy in this life, and in the world to come life eternal. These are offered to each of us freely; but we must set our seal to the testimony by accepting it in faith. (G. H. Smith.)
Set to his seal
The method of sealing seems to have been very ancient. Judah had a signet as well as a bracelet. The document sent to the elders respecting Naboth and his vineyard is said to have been sealed with the king’s signature. So was that which commanded the extermination of the Jews in the time of Esther sealed. So in the days of Jeremiah, when his property was sold, the document which contained the account of the sale was sealed and signed. So have we the great seal of England, which affixed to a document authenticates the document. There are the seals and signatures in like manner of foreign potentates. And to make it still more dear and easy, and to bring it nearer home, in many matters of business, in the ordinary transactions between man and man, there is an agreement which is signed and sealed. Being signed, and sealed, and attested, the document stands; it is good and substantial, and has authority and weight in law. When in like manner, I suppose, we are represented as putting our seal and signature to God’s great document, authenticating it as far as our belief and our conviction goes as true, this is what is meant. Exactly as in the prophet Isaiah, when it is said by the Almighty, “Ye are My witnesses.” We set to our seal that God is true. (James Stratten.)
Sealing the truth
The firmness of the venerable Polycarp in persecution unto death is known to all. Urged by the chief officer to pay religious honours to the emperor, he mildly replied, “I shall not do as you advise me.” “Swear, curse Christ, and I release you.” “Sixty-eight years have I served Him, and He has done ms nothing but good; how, then, can I curse Him, my Lord and my Saviour?” At the stake, when they were about to bind him, he said, “Leave me as I am. He who has strengthened me to encounter the flames, will enable me to stand firm at the stake.”
The testimony of human experience to the Divinity of Christ
As there can be no argument in chemistry in proof of odours like a present perfume itself; as the shining of the stars is a better proof of their presence than the figures of an astronomer; as the restored health of his patients is a better argument of skill in a physician than laboured examinations and certificates; as the testimony of the almanac that summer comes with June is not so convincing as the coming of summer itself in the sky, in the air, in the fields, on hill and mountain, so the power of Christ upon the human soul is to the soul evidence of His Divinity based upon a living experience, and transcending in conclusiveness any convictions of the intellect alone, founded upon a contemplation of mere ideas, however just and sound. If Christ is the wisdom of God and the power of God, in the experience of those who trust and love Him there needs no further argument of His Divinity. (H. W. Beecher.)
The best evidence of the truth of Christianity
As I looked upon the sun this November morning shining through some beautiful clouds, a man called upon me to prove that the sun was, in his judgment, as far as he could make out by “the tables,” about sufficient to light the world. He turned over long pages of logarithms, fractions, and decimals, and long precessions of figures. He asked me for a slate and pencil, and he was going to make it out to my satisfaction that the sun was just about sufficient to enlighten a hemisphere at a time. I ordered him off I Why? I saw it! I felt it! (J. Parker, D. D.)
Experience the teacher’s best helper
“Oh I when a truth has broken your heart; when it has afterwards bound it up; when Christ has spoken it to you till you have felt it, then will you speak as men could speak who are ambassadors for God. George Fox was called a Quaker because, when he preached, he often trembled. Was that a folly? No. He had so felt the power of what he spoke that his very body trembled while he delivered that truth to others, and well may you and I tremble at His Word. Whenever that Word, however, comes home to the heart with sweetness, why, then, with what sweetness a man tells it again! There is nobody can speak it like the man who has experienced it. You know the tale of a tale, the report of a report is a very poor thing; but when a man says, ‘I saw it, I was there,’ then you listen to him. So, if you can say of Christ, ‘He is precious, for He is precious to me; He can save, for He has saved me; He can comfort and cheer and gladden, for He has done all that to me,’ then you speak with power because Christ has spoken with power to you.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The supposed necessity of a seal to attest the signature is shown in the following: “At Jezreel, the chief desired Captain Wilson to make a report to the governor at Jenin, and our dragoman was accordingly directed to write a letter in Arabic, and submit it for signature.… This was duly signed by Captain Wilson; and as the chief insisted on a seal being appended to the signature, an old monogram was cut off a sheet of note paper and affixed to the letter. This was supposed to prove the genuineness of the document, as a man’s seal cannot be forged.” (Recovery of Jerusalem.)
The purpose of sealing
In courts of law, in olden times, a witness gave his statement of that which he professed was truth. Having done so, parties present who were cognisant of the veracity of the speaker, or who were in circumstances that they might be expected to be so, when called on to testify their knowledge, in confirmation of what had been asserted, by doing this set to their seal that what had been spoken was true, and that the witness who had spoken was faithful. But parties who, being thus appealed to, and being qualified to testify, declined to speak in corroboration of the testimony delivered, were held, by that declining, to make the witness a liar. To this practice allusion is made in the text. God hath spoken by His Son to the world; He has spoken that which all men may know, that which all men are bound to know to be true, that they may be able to confirm it as His word of truth. Being commanded to become acquainted with the things which are spoken, they are then, as a great duty, commanded to bear testimony to the truth, to the veracity of Him by whom it has been uttered. When they refuse to know what God speaks, they offend against His authority. When they refuse to testify to the truth--to set to their seal that He is true in the Word which has been given to them--they offend against His veracity; they make Him a liar. (A. Beith, D. D.)
He whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God
CHRIST’S EXCELLENCY IN HIS PROPHETICAL OFFICE (John 3:34).
1. He is the sent of God. His mission is the measure of Divine love to the world. God sent other messengers, the prophets, John, ministers; but as there is but one sun in the firmament, though men have furnished themselves with many derived lights, so there is but one messenger from God--one great centre of illumination for the use of all who are beyond the limits of the unapproachable light.
2. They are the words of God which He speaketh. The same is true of every true minister, hut they are derived. Christ spoke the very oracles of God.
3. God giveth not the Spirit by measure to His Son. The prophets had the Spirit to discharge their commissions, but under such limitations as were necessary to their limited capacities and occasions. But there was no such limit in regard to Christ.
II. CHRIST’S DIGNITY AS THE APPOINTED SOURCE OF ALL GOOD TO THE CHURCH (verse 35). For the use of this language the Baptist had Old Testament warrant.
1. The Father loveth the Son. He loves the world--some with a love of good will, others with a love of delight, hut not even angels share such a love as this; and indeed they and men are loved for and in the Son.
2. All things have been given into Christ’s hands. If God so loved the world that He gave His Son, He so loves the Son that He hath given Him all things--all government, all the economy of redemption.
3. What obedience then is due to the Son! If God hath withheld nothing, shall we?
III. THE SAFETY OF THE SOUL IS DEPENDENT ON CHRIST (verse 36).
1. Salvation is laid up in Christ as its fountain and dispensing author.
2. This salvation is to be sought in Christ by faith.
3. No salvation without faith. Unbelief refuses Christ’s testimony, declines all personal alliance with Christ, opposes God’s purpose, and is the fruit of an evil heart.
4. The unbeliever shall not see life.
5. Upon the unbeliever the wrath of God abides. (A. Beith, D. D.)
The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into His hand
I. CHRIST’S RELATION TO THE FATHER AND TO MAN.
1. The excellency of Christ above all other ambassadors is that He is the Son and they are but servants.
2. Christ is the object of the Father’s love in a peculiar way: as a Son, and not a servant in respect of His Person; and as Mediator, He is pointed out as the beloved Son in whom God will be found well pleased (Matthew 3:17); as He who is beloved, and hath purchased love to others because of His death (John 10:17) (so willing was the Father to be reconciled), as He whose being beloved answereth our being unworthy of love, and is a pledge of the Father’s love to us (John 17:23).
3. In carrying on the redemption of sinners, as the matter is accorded betwixt the Father and the Son, so the redeemed are not left to themselves, but are put on Christ’s hand, to purchase and be forthcoming for them; and all things are concredited to Him that may tend to their good. Under “all things” we are to comprehend the elect themselves, together with all the gills and graces of the Spirit (verse 34) needful for their conversion and salvation, which are not entrusted to ourselves, but to Him who can keep us And them, and let them out as we need; and a dominion over all things that may contribute to help or hinder His people’s happiness, that He may order them so as may be for their good. And this power He hath as God with the Father, and as Man and Mediator, by donation and gift from the Father (Matthew 11:27; Mat_28:18). And thus the believer’s happiness is firm, being transacted between such parties, the Father being satisfied in the Mediator, and they entrusted to Him whose dear purchase they are, and therefore He will not lose them, who hath capacity to receive their furniture far above what they could hold, power to maintain, wisdom to guide and dispense their allowance, dominion to curb all enemies and opposition, and a commission and charge to be answerable for them. All which may invite us to be content that we be nothing, and that we and all our furniture be in His hand. (G. Hutcheson.)
All things in Christ’s hand
The verse gives us the following teachings
1. The Father is the Origin and Arranger of all things.
2. In His arrangements all things are put into the hands of His Son.
3. One reason of this is the love of the Father towards the Son.
4. Ere Christ came to men there had been a sublime transaction in which a vast administration had been entrusted on the one hand and accepted on the other. To confine ourselves to our point
What things are put into the Redeemer’s hand?
I. THE ACT OF CREATION. “All things were made by Him.” Thus He is clearly marked off from aught that is created. This fact establishes His essential equality with God and His official subordination to God.
II. REVELATION. Creation had to do with all worlds; revelation with this. God indeed reveals Himself by His works, the laws of social life, the voice of conscience. But we want a revelation fuller and clearer. Here it is: “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.”
III. PROPITIATION. Where sin is, a revelation of God is not enough: but the Revealer says, “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” A serious state of things when a man’s way to his Father is blocked up save as a Mediator clears it! Yet so it is; but He has put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
IV. HEART CONQUEST. A power is needed to make the mediation effective manward. At the same moment that the herald says “Behold the Lamb of God,” He declares “This is He which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.” The bestowment of the Spirit to convict, convert, and train the Church, is the prerogative of Christ.
V. ADMINISTRATION. When won over to Christ, men have to be governed and sanctified. The subjects of the kingdom of grace have to be inspired with a supreme desire to leaven the world with righteousness. His holy inspiration is begun and sustained by Christ. As He formed the kingdom of grace, so He administers it.
VI. THE CONSUMMATION OF ALL THINGS. He who sent Peter to reap the first-fruits will send forth His angels to reap the harvest. (C. Clemance, D. D.)
I. LIGHT for your mind.
II. LIFE for your souls.
III. LOVE for your hearts.
IV. RIGHTEOUSNESS for your nature.
V. ATONEMENT for your sins.
VI. GRACE for strengthening.
VII. COMFORT for sorrow.
VIII. HEAVEN. (Bp. Gregg.)
The Father loveth the Son
Therefore faith may have firm footing. God hath laid help upon one that is mighty that our faith and hope may be in God. (J. Trapp.)
He who has Christ has all things
King Porus, when Alexander asked him, being then his prisoner, how he would be used, answered in one word, “Basilikeios,” that is, “Like a king.” Alexander again replying, “Do you desire nothing else?” “No,” said he, “all things are in this one word, ‘Like a king.’” Whereupon Alexander restored him again. But this has not always been the happiness of kings and princes. Yet, however, he that hath God hath all things, because God is all things. Take a pen, and write down riches, honours, preferments, they are but as so many ciphers--they signify nothing; but write down God alone, and He will raise them to thousands--hundreds of thousands. And then it is that a Christian is truly happy, when he can find himself, and all things, in his God.
He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life
Faith and unbelief; with their respective consequences
There are three kinds of death.
1. Temporal: the separation of soul from body, the approach of which is usually marked by failure of mental energy and increasing bodily debility.
2. Spiritual: the separation of both body and soul from the Divine favour in this life--the symptoms of which are ignorance of God, neglect of His Word, worldliness, and carelessness about salvation.
3. Eternal: the separation of the whole man from the Divine presence and glory in the world to come--the ills of which will be hope destroyed, despair, the awakening and disappointment of insatiable desire, tormenting sensibility of sin and irremediable woe. This state of things induced by the Fall, Christ has come to remedy. Note
I. THE HAPPY CONSEQUENCE OF BELIEVING ON THE SON OF GOD. He that believeth on the Son hath
1. Life in his Redeemer. God gave us life in Adam, which, with its attendant happiness, we lost, This is restored not directly to us, but in His Son.
2. Life in himself. Once he was unconcerned about spiritual things, buried in the cares, business, and pleasures of the world. Now the Spirit of life having breathed upon him, he is alive from the dead, and the life he now lives in the flesh he lives by the faith of the Son of God. He is a fruit-bearing branch of the living Vine, a lively stone of a living Temple. This life derived from Christ is maintained by communion with Him.
3. Life in promise. The “exceeding great and precious promises” bear upon this, and support the Christian amidst his conflicts and weakness.
4. Life in prospect. He shall dwell in a paradise fairer than Eden for ever, without care, pain, disease, sin, in unalloyed happiness. Because his Redeemer lives he shall live also.
II. THE UNHAPPY CONSEQUENCES OF NOT BELIEVING ON THE SON OF GOD. The unbeliever shall not see life. Of all that the believer enjoys he is deprived, and will be, if he persists, for ever. He may have a name to live, but he is dead, condemned already, bearing the eternal wrath of God. If these things be so, then see
1. What is the great condemning sin of the world, the sin comprehending every other sin--Unbelief. For this makes God a liar, tramples on Christ’s salvation, does despite to the Spirit of grace, shuts heaven and opens hell.
2. What is the faith of the gospel. Not a dead, inoperative belief, but a vigorous, influential principle, moved by the Holy Spirit, to serve and please God, to fear His displeasure, to obey His will out of love and not from dread of punishment or hope of reward.
3. Who alone are secure from Divine displeasure. Those only who are found in Christ (Acts 4:10-12).
4. How we may escape God’s wrath. By taking shelter in Christ through faith. (W. Mudge, B. A.)
Faith and unbelief
Evangelical texts lose their freshness from overfamiliarity. In order to appreciate their power we must realize their effects on those who have them for the first time. Let us reduce the text to a series of propositions.
I. THAT THE HIGHEST GOOD IS ETERNAL LIFE. No heathen needs to be informed that life is more than existence. We cannot feel for a stone as we do for a tree which possesses life in its lowest form. We have a mere community of feeling for animal life; but this is as nothing compared with our regard for human nature. For rational life is better than irrational. But this can be conceived without the capacity of moral distins-tions--which men have, however. But, alas! we know that this moral life, if it may be so called, is quite compatible with spiritual death. Men are alive to the perception of moral good, but dead to its enjoyment. Is it not plain that a resurrection from this exalts us into a higher life, spiritual, not merely the life of our spirits, for in a lower sense they were alive before, but a life produced by the Spirit of God and doing God’s will and enjoying His favour. This is the highest life of which a creature is capable in kind; its purification from the evils that mar it, its endlessness, and the perfection of its blessedness for body and soul in heaven, make it the highest life in degree.
II. Let us suppose a serious heathen to have formed this conception of eternal life, and to be filled with admiration. He would soon compare it with his own experience and see that between him and it there was a great gulf fixed. That life presupposes a God holy in Himself and in His requisitions. The inquirer thus sees himself opposite to God and odious in proportion to His excellence. A fond hope arises. As sin has been his death, he will sin no more. Now comes a new revelation. He is the slave of sin, and his heart is dead in sin. Can he give it life? No. Here is a new despair.
He turns to another method of escape. God will forgive him, and by a sovereign act make him a new creature. As he looks towards the inaccessible light he is completely undeceived on this point. He sees no shadow of connivance at sin. He withdraws his eyes, as he thinks, in eternal darkness. But on that darkness a new light begins to steal. His eye follows it to a point beyond himself, an intermediate object between God’s inexorable justice and himself. Sin may be punished and the sinner saved. But a cloud passes over this celestial light. All men are alike, and if a man cannot make satisfaction for himself, how can he for another? But may not God? The thought seems impious till the lost veil is withdrawn and the astonished soul beholds the great mystery of godliness. God manifested in the flesh and becoming the propitiation for sin. But the work demanded of the sinner is hard because so easy: hard to do nothing when we think we must do all, to believe we have only to believe, when we expected to achieve our redemption. When once the soul is brought, however, to see that this is truly God’s plan--that the Son of God is able and willing to save, and accepts this salvation, the work is done, and the man justified and safe for ever. By some such process we may suppose a heathen to arrive at the second proposition, viz., THAT ETERNAL LIFE MAY BE ATTAINED BY SIMPLY BELIEVING IN THE SON OF GOD.
III. From this He would infer THAT UNBELIEF INVOLVES THE LOSS OF ALL THAT PERFECT AND ENDURING BLESSEDNESS CALLED ETERNAL LIFE. But here he would be liable to error. The mere loss of heaven would not affect the hearts of those who know it not. Indeed, they refuse it, preferring the pleasures of sin. Deprivation, therefore, would be no punishment. The doctrine of the gospel is that he that loses heaven loses this world also. “The wrath of God abideth on him.” Hell is the deprivation of all that makes a life of sin tolerable here.
1. Sinners here participate in the outward advantages of the believer, but the wrath of God will separate the lost from the saved for ever, and from all the advantages of order, comfort, and mutual constraint consequent.
2. Sinners have positive enjoyment in sin--those are sentenced to be only for a season, and its native tendency to misery to go on for ever.
3. Sinners are ignorant of anything better which could make the most dissatisfied wish sinful pleasure. The wrath of God will awaken conscience, which will have sufficient light to plant its daggers with unerring accuracy, and the sinner shall know What he has lost.
IV. WHAT THESE TRUTHS WOULD BE TO A HEATHEN THEY ARE TO US. If to him they involve the whole way of salvation, they involve no less to us. We have here
1. The great end of existence, eternal life and Divine favour.
2. Its opposite, eternal death and Divine wrath.
3. The way of life by faith.
4. The object of this faith the Son of God, the one sacrifice for sin.
In conclusion. On the unbeliever the wrath of God abides already. Let the procrastinating soul be undeceived. Distance of time and place works strange transformations. Tell one who violates the law of man that he will be condemned for it, and he may laugh the law and you to scorn. But bow few laugh when told that they are condemned already. Look at the convict at the bar, and see how different his aspect and demeanour from his aspect and demeanour when at large. Such is yon, case. You are not yet arrested, bat you are under sentence. You are condemned already, and reprieve or pardon is your only hope. (J. A. Alexander, D. D.)
Everlasting life connected with believing on the Son of God
I. WHAT IS THIS BELIEVING ON THE SON?
1. This believing on the Son, as here mentioned, supposes a distinct knowledge of Him--of His person, natures, and offices.
2. It includes assent to the record that God the Father has given of Him.
3. It includes, in consequence of both the knowledge of Him, and assent to the testimony of God concerning Him, our hearty approbation of Him, as every way qualified, able, faithful, and willing, to save to the uttermost all that believe (Hebrews 7:25; Heb_2:17; John 6:37).
4. Chiefly it includes a cordial acceptance of Christ, as offered in the gospel.
II. SHOW IN WHAT RESPECTS TRUE BELIEVERS IN CHRIST MAY BE SAID TO HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE.
1. They have it in title and right of purchase.
2. They have the blessedness of the heavenly state in the promises of it; therefore it is called “eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, has promised” Titus 1:2).
3. Believers have the eternal happiness of heaven in their glorified Head and forerunner. He, as their Forerunner, is entered into heaven for them Hebrews 6:20); has taken, as it were, possession in their name.
4. They have everlasting life in the first-fruits of it. They have already received some part of their future blessedness in the graces and comforts of the Holy Spirit, which are therefore called the “first-fruits of the Spirit” Romans 8:23), and the “earnest of the heavenly inheritance” Ephesians 1:14). (Sketches of Sermons.)
The unbeliever’s unhappy condition
John the Baptist was a preacher who knew how to discriminate. He does not address the people as all lost or saved, but shows the two classes and the line of demarcation.
I. THE GUILTY ONES.
1. They are common. They abound in our sanctuaries, and are to be met by thousands in our streets.
2. They are not necessarily sceptics. Many of them are quite orthodox.
3. Not a few are blameless in morals, but like the young man lack the great thing.
4. Many are religious after a sort, attend worship, read the Bible, etc,, but alas! there is a worm at the centre of all this fair fruit.
5. If they were criminals no one would wonder, but many of them are highly respectable.
II. THEIR OFFENCE. They have not believed on the Son of God.
1. They refuse to accept the mercy of God. Men rejected God’s law, now they reject His gospel. To refuse such a blessing provided at such a cost, cannot be a small sin. It is the greatest, for when the Holy Ghost comes to convince the world of sin, that sin is unbelief.
2. In this rejection the unbeliever displays an intense venom against God. He must either accept mercy or condemnation. He chooses the latter. What has God done to deserve this?
3. The unbeliever touches God in a very tender place: slighting the greatest manifestation of His love.
4. He perpetrates an offence against every person in the blessed Trinity.
5. He insults every Divine attributes justice, wisdom, mercy.
III. THE SOURCES OF THIS UNBELIEF.
1. In many, careless ignorance of the way of salvation, and this in a land of churches and Bibles, is so far from being an excuse that it is an aggravation.
2. Indifference. Men are aware that they are not quite right, but hope to be at last; meanwhile it does not trouble them. What grosser impertinence can there be against the supreme Ruler?
3. Pride. Salvation is all very well for harlots, drunkards, etc.
4. Love of sin.
IV. THE TERRIBLE RESULT. The wrath of God abideth now and always.
1. You will not escape by ceasing to exist. The Divine wrath cannot rest on a non-existent creature.
2. This must be so because you reject the only remedy. There is but one door, and you close it by unbelief.
3. The wrath will produce no saving or softening effect, but will go on to harden.
4. God has never taken an oath against any but unbelievers. “To whom sware He in His wrath that they should not enter into His rest, but to them that believed not?” Continued unbelief God will never forgive, because His word binds Him not to do so. In conclusion. There is a blessed alternative: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The life eternal
I. LIFE ETERNAL IN THIS WORLD.
1. It has its origin here. It is not death, but regeneration--that is the entrance gate to it. He begins to live the same life as he will live in heaven--only that here he is in a state of childhood, and many are the childish things which he does.
2. It is nourished here. God has promised food for it; He has stewards to furnish it with nourishment in due season; and the cupboard and larder is open for it to help itself whenever it likes. The food contained in the Bible is the produce of its native country, and it will not look well unless it will feed often on this.
3. It is trained here for its home. It is away from home here, in an ungenial climate and a strange land. It is not to be wondered at if at times it appears to be weak and feeble; it must do so if it remain long in the unhealthy atmosphere of this world. There is something tender, yet strong, about it. It is too strong ever to die, but it is tender enough to appear sickly.
II. LIFE ETERNAL IN THE WORLD TO COME.
1. It will be of age there--“a perfect man unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” The believer is but an infant, in his minority, here. Parents do not allow very young children to enter their drawing-rooms and mingle with their distinguished guests; but they have to wait until they are of a fit age, and know how to conduct themselves in noble company. When they are infants they are not allowed to meddle with the papers and writings of their father; but as they approach maturity it is pleasant to see them take interest in the circumstances and movements of the household.
2. It will be in its own climate there. There are many impediments to its progress here. It is exposed to many diseases, and the believer has to take many a bitter drug, and has to undergo treatment oftentimes which is, for the present, not joyous, but grievous. But by such things is the inward man renewed day by day. The bitter things will not be needed in the world to come; there the climate will be genial, the atmosphere perfectly healthy; and none of the inhabitants shall say, “I am sick.”
3. It will then be in its home. It is but a pilgrim here, travelling through the enemy’s land; the god of this world and the children of this world are hostile to it, and do their best to kill it. The Christian has often feared that the “Divine nature” has received a death-blow, he felt so weak and faint.
4. It will be in its Father’s house. The believer is away at school; and the only intercourse between him and the Father is by correspondence.
1. Heaven or hell will be but a continuation of what man is here. The principle which is now in thy soul, having reached its climax, will constitute thy heaven or thy hell; and that in its native element.
2. All men begin in this world to live the “ eternal life” or begin to die the “eternal death.” (David Roberts, D. D.)
Christ is the sinner’s only hope
On a huge cross by the side of an Italian highway hung a hideous caricature of the Beloved of our souls, who poured out His life for our redemption. Out of reverence to the living Christ we turned aside, disgusted, from the revolting image, but not until we had espied the words “Spes unica” in capitals over its head. Here was truth emblazoned on an idol. Yes, indeed, Jesus, our now exalted, but once crucified Lord, is the sole and only hope of man. Assuredly, O Lord Jesus, thou art spes unica to our soul. “Other refuge have we none, Hangs our helpless soul on Thee.” We found this diamond in the mire of superstition: does it sparkle any the less?
Believe or perish
Faith in Jesus is the only way of salvation, and if I will not walk in that way, there is no other. Our Lord’s teaching leaves us no room to hope for the salvation of unbelievers. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved”; but what of those who do not believe? May they not be sincerely mistaken? May they not be very good people after all, and be saved in their own way? Our Lord’s reply is sharp, clear, and decisive, “He that believeth not shall be damned.” He hath nothing else for them but that. Christ is too great and too honest to court popularity, as many do nowadays, by an affectation that right and wrong are much the same. The wicked charity of this age sickens us with its deceptive cant, as it whines out, “It will little matter what you believe; nothing nowadays is of very great consequence; believe what you like, and it shall be all right in the long run.” Nay, but according to the gospel of Jesus you must believe the truth, and’ have faith in the power of the truth, for a lie will not regenerate you, a lie will not fit you to see the face of God, a lie will not conduct you to heaven, but only that truth which hath the stamp and seal of God and of His Holy Spirit. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The peril of unbelievers
Your peace, sinner, is that terribly prophetic calm which the traveller occasionally perceives upon the higher Alps. Everything is still. The birds suspend their notes, fly low, and cower down with fear. The hum of bees among the flowers is hushed. A horrible stillness rules the hour, as if death had silenced all things by stretching over them his awful sceptre. Perceive ye not what is surely at hand? The tempest is preparing; the lightning will soon cast abroad its flames of fire. Earth will rock with thunderblasts; granite peaks will be dissolved; all nature will tremble beneath the fury of the storm. Yours is that solemn calm to-day, sinner. Rejoice not in it, for the hurricane of wrath is coming, the whirlwind and the tribulation which shall sweep you away and utterly destroy you.
The dreadful wrath of God
A young man went to hear Mr. Whitefield, who took the above passage for his text. “Mr. Whitefield,” said the young man, “described the Sadducees’ character; this did not touch me--I thought myself as good a Christian as any man in England. From this he went to that of the Pharisees. He described their exterior decency, but observed that the poison of hypocrisy rankled in their hearts. This rather shook me. At length, in the course of his sermon, he abruptly broke off, paused for a few moments, then burst into a flood of tears, lifted up his eyes and hands and exclaimed, ‘My hearers! the wrath to come! the wrath to come!’ These words sank into my heart, like lead in the waters. I wept, and when the sermon ended, retired alone. For days and weeks I could think of nothing else. Those awful words would follow me wherever I went. ‘The wrath to come! the wrath to come!’“ The result was that the young man soon after made a public profession of religion, and in a short time became an eminent preacher.
Christ the only refuge from apprehensions of the future
I. ALL MEN NEED SOME REFUGE FROM THESE APPREHENSIONS. Our ignorance prevents us from seeing into a future state, and our sinfulness damps what discoveries we may make by a sense of foreboding and an apprehension of punishment. Man needs light and peace.
II. MOST MEN FEEL THIS NEED MORE OR LESS, AND RESORT TO EXPEDIENTS AGAINST THE FEAR OF WHAT FOLLOWS DEATH. No man of ordinary culture is asleep on this point, and this leads to modes of thinking and action which only disappoint.
III. APART FROM REVELATION, ALL SYSTEMS IN WHICH MEN SEEK REFUGE ARE VAIN. Some, indeed, have been partially successful. Cf. the rites of Paganism and the delusions of Mohammed. But go where we will, if not to Christ, we have no rest.
1. Shall we go to atheism, the madness of human nature? This does not extinguish fear. It is certain we exist now. Howl By chance, says the atheist. But on the same principle of chance may not life be protracted after death?
2. Shall we go to Deism? Nothing can assure the Deist that the Bible is not the Word of God. All he can say is “probably” it is not. But suppose it should be true, what is his position then?
IV. CHRIST ONLY HAS THE GIFT OF ETERNAL LIFE.
1. He is the only effective teacher of it. The idea of immortality existed before; but He brought it down from the clouds into sober certainty John 5:25-25). So with the apostles (2 Corinthians 5:1). Who dared to say “We know” but disciples of this Master?
2. He has revealed the only scheme of it consistent with the principles of the Divine government. By answering all the designs of justice in punishing, it has removed the necessity of punishment, and gives room for salvation.
3. The miracles of Jesus prove that He has eternal life
4. Facts of every-day occurrence prove that Jesus has eternal life. We do not see Him call Lazarus from the grave, but daily He calls dead souls into life. Every true Christian has witness within himself of this.
1. Those who reject the Gospel Saviour reject their life.
2. Those who receive Him are eternally secure. (A. M’Clelland, D. D.)
The wrath of God
The wrath of man is fearful to view, and especially to feel. But the wrath of God--no pen can describe it, or imagination conceive it. What will the realization of it be? And this wrath impends over every impenitent sinner.
I. It is SURE TO FALL UPON HIM IN DUE TIME.
1. It is not a simple possibility.
2. Not a threat to terrify.
3. It is as sure as God Almighty’s throne.
II. It is sure in due time TO FALL UPON THE SINNER IN ALL THE TERRIBLENESS OF ITS POWER AND SEVERITY.
1. Here mercy tempers justice. Wrath is restrained and grace works.
2. This is the world of probation, not of final award.
3. The day of reckoning is appointed after death.
III. THIS WRATH IS JUSTLY DESERVED.
1. It might have been turned aside.
2. Voluntary sin and the persistent refusal of mercy and grace provoke it. (J. M. Sherwood, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "John 3". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Easter