|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
3:1-8 Nicodemus was afraid, or ashamed to be seen with Christ, therefore came in the night. When religion is out of fashion, there are many Nicodemites. But though he came by night, Jesus bid him welcome, and hereby taught us to encourage good beginnings, although weak. And though now he came by night, yet afterward he owned Christ publicly. He did not talk with Christ about state affairs, though he was a ruler, but about the concerns of his own soul and its salvation, and went at once to them. Our Saviour spoke of the necessity and nature of regeneration or the new birth, and at once directed Nicodemus to the source of holiness of the heart. Birth is the beginning of life; to be born again, is to begin to live anew, as those who have lived much amiss, or to little purpose. We must have a new nature, new principles, new affections, new aims. By our first birth we were corrupt, shapen in sin; therefore we must be made new creatures. No stronger expression could have been chosen to signify a great and most remarkable change of state and character. We must be entirely different from what we were before, as that which begins to be at any time, is not, and cannot be the same with that which was before. This new birth is from heaven, ch. 1:13, and its tendency is to heaven. It is a great change made in the heart of a sinner, by the power of the Holy Spirit. It means that something is done in us, and for us, which we cannot do for ourselves. Something is wrong, whereby such a life begins as shall last for ever. We cannot otherwise expect any benefit by Christ; it is necessary to our happiness here and hereafter. What Christ speak, Nicodemus misunderstood, as if there had been no other way of regenerating and new-moulding an immortal soul, than by new-framing the body. But he acknowledged his ignorance, which shows a desire to be better informed. It is then further explained by the Lord Jesus. He shows the Author of this blessed change. It is not wrought by any wisdom or power of our own, but by the power of the blessed Spirit. We are shapen in iniquity, which makes it necessary that our nature be changed. We are not to marvel at this; for, when we consider the holiness of God, the depravity of our nature, and the happiness set before us, we shall not think it strange that so much stress is laid upon this. The regenerating work of the Holy Spirit is compared to water. It is also probable that Christ had reference to the ordinance of baptism. Not that all those, and those only, that are baptized, are saved; but without that new birth which is wrought by the Spirit, and signified by baptism, none shall be subjects of the kingdom of heaven. The same word signifies both the wind and the Spirit. The wind bloweth where it listeth for us; God directs it. The Spirit sends his influences where, and when, on whom, and in what measure and degree, he pleases. Though the causes are hidden, the effects are plain, when the soul is brought to mourn for sin, and to breathe after Christ. Christ's stating of the doctrine and the necessity of regeneration, it should seem, made it not clearer to Nicodemus. Thus the things of the Spirit of God are foolishness to the natural man. Many think that cannot be proved, which they cannot believe. Christ's discourse of gospel truths, ver. 11-13, shows the folly of those who make these things strange unto them; and it recommends us to search them out. Jesus Christ is every way able to reveal the will of God to us; for he came down from heaven, and yet is in heaven. We have here a notice of Christ's two distinct natures in one person, so that while he is the Son of man, yet he is in heaven. God is the HE THAT IS, and heaven is the dwelling-place of his holiness. The knowledge of this must be from above, and can be received by faith alone. Jesus Christ came to save us by healing us, as the children of Israel, stung with fiery serpents, were cured and lived by looking up to the brazen serpent, Nu 21:6-9. In this observe the deadly and destructive nature of sin. Ask awakened consciences, ask damned sinners, they will tell you, that how charming soever the allurements of sin may be, at the last it bites like a serpent. See the powerful remedy against this fatal malady. Christ is plainly set forth to us in the gospel. He whom we offended is our Peace, and the way of applying for a cure is by believing. If any so far slight either their disease by sin, or the method of cure by Christ, as not to receive Christ upon his own terms, their ruin is upon their own heads. He has said, Look and be saved, look and live; lift up the eyes of your faith to Christ crucified. And until we have grace to do this, we shall not be cured, but still are wounded with the stings of Satan, and in a dying state. Jesus Christ came to save us by pardoning us, that we might not die by the sentence of the law. Here is gospel, good news indeed. Here is God's love in giving his Son for the world. God so loved the world; so really, so richly. Behold and wonder, that the great God should love such a worthless world! Here, also, is the great gospel duty, to believe in Jesus Christ. God having given him to be our Prophet, Priest, and King, we must give up ourselves to be ruled, and taught, and saved by him. And here is the great gospel benefit, that whoever believes in Christ, shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, and so saving it. It could not be saved, but through him; there is no salvation in any other. From all this is shown the happiness of true believers; he that believeth in Christ is not condemned. Though he has been a great sinner, yet he is not dealt with according to what his sins deserve. How great is the sin of unbelievers! God sent One to save us, that was dearest to himself; and shall he not be dearest to us? How great is the misery of unbelievers! they are condemned already; which speaks a certain condemnation; a present condemnation. The wrath of God now fastens upon them; and their own hearts condemn them. There is also a condemnation grounded on their former guilt; they are open to the law for all their sins; because they are not by faith interested in the gospel pardon. Unbelief is a sin against the remedy. It springs from the enmity of the heart of man to God, from love of sin in some form. Read also the doom of those that would not know Christ. Sinful works are works of darkness. The wicked world keep as far from this light as they can, lest their deeds should be reproved. Christ is hated, because sin is loved. If they had not hated saving knowledge, they would not sit down contentedly in condemning ignorance. On the other hand, renewed hearts bid this light welcome. A good man acts truly and sincerely in all he does. He desires to know what the will of God is, and to do it, though against his own worldly interest. A change in his whole character and conduct has taken place. The love of God is shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost, and is become the commanding principle of his actions. So long as he continues under a load of unforgiven guilt, there can be little else than slavish fear of God; but when his doubts are done away, when he sees the righteous ground whereon this forgiveness is built, he rests on it as his own, and is united to God by unfeigned love. Our works are good when the will of God is the rule of them, and the glory of God the end of them; when they are done in his strength, and for his sake; to him, and not to men. Regeneration, or the new birth, is a subject to which the world is very averse; it is, however, the grand concern, in comparison with which every thing else is but trifling. What does it signify though we have food to eat in plenty, and variety of raiment to put on, if we are not born again? if after a few mornings and evenings spent in unthinking mirth, carnal pleasure, and riot, we die in our sins, and lie down in sorrow? What does it signify though we are well able to act our parts in life, in every other respect, if at last we hear from the Supreme Judge, Depart from me, I know you not, ye workers of iniquity?
Verse 21. - But he that doeth the truth - who is "of the truth," and "heareth his voice" (John 18:37), he who is "morally true," inwardly sincere, who would never shrink from a genuine self-revelation - cometh to the light. This remarkable expression allies itself with many other words of Christ, and suggests that in the heart of Judaism and of mankind generally, amid and notwithstanding the darkness which prevailed, there were found elect souls, taught of the Spirit, longing for more light, yearning to know the truth about themselves, however humiliating it might prove to be. This is confirmed by St. Paul's argument (Romans 1 and 2), where some Gentiles who have not the Law are admitted to do by nature the things contained in the Law, and even to become a law unto themselves; and where, in contradistinction to the hopelessly rebellious, Paul assumes that there are some who "by patient continuance in well doing, seek for glory, honour, and immortality." These "do the truth, and have no pleasure in unrighteousness." They are "taught of God," they have "seen and heard from the Father" some of the great things of the Law. The Holy Spirit has opened their eyes to see great things in the Law, and they come to the light. They are not afraid of the revelation it will make. They may be humbled and pained by the disclosure, but there is a Divine luxury in such pain. The purpose of the coming to the light on the part of one who doeth the truth, is in order that his works may be made manifest. This is the precise contrary of the conduct of the man whose eye is scaled and whose heart is made fat by sin. Such a one dreads conviction, the outward affirmation or utterance of the inwardly known κρίσις; and therefore shrinks from conviction or any conduct which will promote it. He flees from the man of God, he disdains the revealing Word, he rejects the blessed Christ, he loves the darkness, this is his condemnation. On the other hand, the sincere man, who is honest with himself, is supremely anxious for the true light to bear down upon his "works." He is willing that they should be manifested. If he is deceiving himself with false hopes, he yearns that these should disappear before the shining of the true light. If his works will bear examination, then let him know the verdict which is unconsciously being given by the revelation of the light. It is a nice question to determine the meaning of the ὅτι. The current interpretation is for, or because, they are wrought in God; i.e. the sincere man desires this self-manifestation, comes to the light because his works have been inwrought by Divine grace. He loves the light, he does the truth because God has wrought within him to will and to do. In other words, the work of grace is in every case the adequate explanation of such a contrast to the common condition of human nature. Godet suggests that ὅτι here has the meaning of "that," and urges that the Greek usage in John 4:35 and other passages will justify the translation, he cometh... manifest, that they are wrought in God, as though this Divine revelation were the real end of his coming to the light. This appears to me to be incompatible with the fact. The man who doeth the truth may yet need very much instruction before he accepts the Divine Original of his own conduct, or desires the manifestation to others of the Divine Source of his humble search. The more current translation, "because," is in harmony with the facts of Christian and religious experience, and is in keeping with the biblical assurance, that all good, all holiness, sincerity, and upright striving, just such as Nicodemus was then displaying, is God's own work, and is the result of his grace. Nicodemus comes, asks questions, receives weighty answers, and retires. We do not know the immediate result of these most wonderful words upon him; but we do find him taking the part of Jesus before the Sanhedrin (John 7:50, 51); and from John 19:39 we learn that, though a secret disciple, he did not disdain to come out of his hiding place to houour the corpse of the Crucified. The death of Jesus, which had blasted the hopes of the apostles, had fired those of Nicodemus. Every word of this discourse is compatible with the position of the great Prophet at this early period of his ministry, is suited to the Pharisaic mind, and adapted to meet its difficulties and correct its prejudices. If a few expressions, such as "the only begotten Son," "this is the condemnation, that," "he that doeth the truth," are found in writings which are John's undoubted composition, the circumstance may be explained that he borrowed them from Jesus. This is quite as rational (not to say legitimate and reverential) as to suppose, because of them, that John invented them, and betrayed their origin by placing them in the lips of Jesus. We do not suppose that John has mechanically recited the whole of the words that were spoken on either side, but preserved those heads of discourse which rise like mountain peaks above the oceans of thought between them, and are linked together by the glory which they severally reflect from the sublime personality of the Son of man.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
But he that doth truth,.... That which is true, right and good: "he whose work is just", as the Ethiopic version renders it; or, "he that does that which is right", so the Persic; that which is according to the will of God, and from a principle of love to him, and with a view to his glory:
cometh to the light; to Christ, and to his word, and ordinances:
that his deeds may be made manifest; being brought to the light, to the test, and standard, whether they, are right, or wrong; and that it may appear,
that they are wrought in God; or "by God"; by his assistance, and gracious influence, without which men can do nothing; for it is God that works in them both to will and to do: or, "according to God", as others render it; according to the will of God, both for matter and manner: or "for God", as the Ethiopic version renders it; for the glory of God, which ought to be the aim, and end of every action. The Persic version reads the whole thus, "that the work which is between God and him may be known"; that such deeds may be discovered, which are only known to God and himself.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
21. doeth truth—whose only object in life is to be and do what will bear the light. Therefore he loves and "comes to the light," that all he is and does, being thus thoroughly tested, may be seen to have nothing in it but what is divinely wrought and divinely approved. This is the "Israelite, indeed, in whom is no guile."
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