|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 6. - That which hath been born of the flesh, is flesh. Σάρξ is not the physical as opposed to the spiritual or immaterial. nor is σάρξ necessarily sinful, as we see from John 1:14, but as it often appears in John's writing and Paul's, σάρξ is the constituent element of humanity as apart from grace - humanity (body, intellect, heart, conscience, soul, spirit) viewed on its own side and merits and capacity, without the Divine life, or the Divine supernatural inbreathing. The being born of the flesh is the being born into this world, with all the privations and depravations, evil tendencies and passions of a fallen humanity. Birth into the theocracy, birth into national or ecclesiastical privilege, birth that has no higher quality than flesh, no better germ or graft upon it. simply produces flesh, humanity over again. When the Logos "became flesh," something more than and different from ordinary traduction of humanity took place. Destitute of any higher birth than the birth of flesh, man is fleshly, psychical, earthly, σαρκικός ψυχικός χοι'κός (Romans 7:14-25), and, more than that, positively opposed to the will and grace of God, lashed with passions, defiled with debasing ideas, in enmity against God. Hence the birth "from the Spirit" is entirely antithetic to the birth from the flesh. That which hath been born of the Spirit, is spirit. There is a birth which supervenes on the flesh-be-gotten man, and it is supernaturally wrought by the Spirit of God. As in the first instance, at man's creation, God breathed into man the breath of life, and by that operation man became a living soul; so now the new birth of man is wrought in him by the Spirit, and there is a new life, a new mode of being, a new bias and predomimating impulse. "A spiritual mind which is life and peace" has taken the place of the old carnal mind. He is "spiritual," no longer "psychical," or "carnal," but able to discern the things that are freely given to him. The eye of the spirit is opened, unsealed, the τὰ τοῦ πνεύματος are revealed to him (1 Corinthians 2:12-16; 1 Corinthians 3:1-5). The reference to "birth of water" is not repeated, because the birth from water is relatively unimportant, and of no value apart from the Spirit-change of which it may be a picture, or even a synonym. More than that, the Spirit-birth, the Divine operation, is the efficient cause of that which, under the form of a human experience, is called μετάνοια. The human metanoia, rather than the new birth, is the great burden of our Lord's public address, as recorded in the synoptic Gospels. In both representations the same fact, the same condition and state of the human consciousness, is referred to. In "repentance," however, and in the moral characters which are the several preliminaries to the beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount, a change is declared necessary for the constitution and inauguration of the kingdom of heaven. This change is there viewed from the standpoint of human experience, and urged in the form of a direct appeal to conscience. In this discourse to Nicodcmus the same change is exhibited on its Divine side, and as one produced by the Spirit of God. In the Sermon on the Mount "meekness," "poverty of spirit," "mourning," "hunger after righteousness," "purity of heart," the spirit of forgiveness and long suffering, are the moral conditions of those minds and hearts which would become the city of God and the light of the world (Matthew 5:1-12). On this occasion, when addressing the learned rabbi, Christ sums all up in the demand for a birth from the Spirit - a new and spiritual recommencement of life from the Spirit of God. The clause found in the Vetus Itala and the Syriac, quia Deus spiritus est, et de Deo natus est, is a gloss sustained by no Greek manuscript authority. Thorns here quotes two interesting passages from Philo, 1:533, 599, where the νοῦς is spoken of as given to man from above, and where the supremacy of the spiritual over the fleshly is made the only guarantee of admission into the world of spirit. But Philo obviously meant the intellectual rather than the moral element in human nature, and prized the ascetic process rather than the supernatural regeneration.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
That which is born of the flesh, is flesh,.... Man by his natural birth, and as he is born according to the flesh of his natural parents, is a mere natural man; that is, he is carnal and corrupt, and cannot discern spiritual things; nor can he, as such, enter into, and inherit the kingdom of God; see 1 Corinthians 2:14. And therefore there is a necessity of his being born again, or of the grace of the Spirit, and of his becoming a spiritual man; and if he was to be, or could be born again of the flesh, or ever so many times enter into his mothers womb, and be born, was it possible, he would still be but a natural and a carnal man, and so unfit for the kingdom of God. By "flesh" here, is not meant the fleshy part of man, the body, as generated of another fleshy substance; for this is no other than what may be said of brutes; and besides, if this was the sense, "spirit", in the next clause, must mean the soul, whereas one soul is not generated from another: but by flesh is designed, the nature of man; not merely as weak and frail, but as unclean and corrupt, through sin; and which being propagated by natural generation from sinful men, cannot be otherwise; for "who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one", Job 14:4. And though the soul of man is of a spiritual nature, and remains a spirit, notwithstanding the pollution of sin; yet it being defiled with the flesh, and altogether under the power and influence of the lusts of the flesh, it may well be said to be carnal or fleshly: hence "flesh", as it stands opposed to spirit, signifies the corruption of nature, Galatians 5:17; and such who are in a state of unregeneracy, are said to be after the flesh, and in the flesh, and even the mind itself is said to be carnal, Romans 8:5.
And that which is born of the Spirit, is spirit: a man that is regenerated by the Spirit of God, and the efficacy of his grace, is a spiritual man; he can discern and judge all things of a spiritual nature; he is a fit person to be admitted to spiritual ordinances and privileges; and appears to be in the spiritual kingdom of Christ; and has a right to the world of blessed spirits above; and when his body is raised a spiritual body, will be admitted in soul, body, and spirit, into the joy of his Lord. "Spirit" in the first part of this clause, signifies the Holy Spirit of God, the author of regeneration and sanctification; whence that work is called the sanctification of the Spirit, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost, 1 Peter 1:2. And "spirit", in the latter part, intends the internal work of grace upon the soul, from whence a man is denominated a spiritual man; and as a child bears the same name with its parent, so this is called by the same, as the author and efficient cause of it: and besides, it is of a spiritual nature itself, and exerts itself in spiritual acts and exercises, and directs to, and engages in spiritual things; and has its seat also in the spirit, or soul of man.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
6-8. That which is born, &c.—A great universal proposition; "That which is begotten carries within itself the nature of that which begat it" [Olshausen].
flesh—Not the mere material body, but all that comes into the world by birth, the entire man; yet not humanity simply, but in its corrupted, depraved condition, in complete subjection to the law of the fall (Ro 8:1-9). So that though a man "could enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born," he would be no nearer this "new birth" than before (Job 14:4; Ps 51:5).
is spirit—"partakes of and possesses His spiritual nature."
John 3:6 Parallel Commentaries
John 3:6 NIV
John 3:6 NLT
John 3:6 ESV
John 3:6 NASB
John 3:6 KJV
Bible Hub: Online Parallel Bible