John 3:16
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
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(16) The last verse has spoken of “every one who believeth.” The thought went beyond the limits that Rabbis set to the kingdom of God. Its only limit is humanity. This thought is now repeated and strengthened by the “might not perish,” and the love of God is made the foundation on which it rests. Perhaps no verse in the Bible has been so much explained as this; perhaps no verse can be so little explained. Most young preachers have sermons upon it; older men learn that its meaning must be felt and thought rather than spoken. Still less can it be written; and this Note may not attempt to do more than indicate some lines of thought which may help to lead to others.

God so loved the world.—Familiar as the words are to us, they were uttered to Nicodemus for the first time. They are the revelation of the nature of God, and the ground of our love to God and man. (Comp. Notes on 1John 4:7-11.)

His only begotten Son.—Here, once again, the Old Testament Scriptures suggest and explain the words used. Every Jew knew, and loved to think and tell of his forefather who was willing to sacrifice his own and only son in obedience to what he thought to be the will of God (Genesis 22). But Love gives, and does not require, sacrifice. God wills not that Abraham should give his son, but He gave His only begotten Son. The dread power that man has ever conceived—that is not God; the pursuing vengeance that sin has ever imagined—that is not God; the unsatisfied anger that sacrifice has ever suggested—that is not God. But all that human thought has ever gathered of tenderness, forgiveness, love, in the relation of father to only child—all this is, in the faintness of an earth-drawn picture, an approach to the true idea of God. Yes, the true idea is infinitely beyond all this; for the love for the world gives in sacrifice the love for the only begotten Son.

Believeth in.—Better, believeth upon. The preposition is not the same as in the last verse. (Comp. John 1:12.) There the thought was of the Son of Man lifted up, in whom every one who believes and can interpret spiritual truth, ever has eternal life. Here the thought is of the Son of God given for the world, and every one who believes upon, casts his whole being upon Him, and, like Abraham, in will rests all upon God, finds that God has provided Himself a lamb for a burnt-offering instead of human sacrifice or death.

Everlasting life.—Better, as the same Greek word is rendered in the previous verse, eternal life. For the meaning of this word see Note on Matthew 25:46. It is of frequent use in this Gospel (seventeen times), and always used in reference to life.



John 3:16

I venture to say that my text shows us a lake, a river, a pitcher, and a draught. ‘God so loved the world’-that is the lake. A lake makes a river for itself-’God so loved the world that He gave His . . . Son.’ But the river does not quench any one’s thirst unless he has something to lift the water with: ‘God so loved the world that He gave His . . . Son, that whosoever believeth on Him.’ Last comes the draught: ‘shall not perish, but have everlasting life.’

I. The great lake, God’s love.

Before Jesus Christ came into this world no one ever dreamt of saying ‘God loves.’ Some of the Old Testament psalmists had glimpses of that truth and came pretty near expressing it. But among all the ‘gods many and lords many,’ there were lustful gods and beautiful gods, and idle gods, and fighting gods and peaceful gods: but not one of whom worshippers said, ‘He loves.’ Once it was a new and almost incredible message, but we have grown accustomed to it, and it is not strange any more to us. But if we would try to think of what it means, the whole truth would flash up into fresh newness, and all the miseries and sorrows and perplexities of our lives would drift away down the wind, and we should be no more troubled with them. ‘God loves’ is the greatest thing that can be said by lips.

‘God . . . loved the world.’ Now when we speak of loving a number of individuals-the broader the stream, the shallower it is, is it not? The most intense patriot in England does not love her one ten-thousandth part as well as he loves his own little girl. When we think or feel anything about a great multitude of people, it is like looking at a forest. We do not see the trees, we see the whole wood. But that is not how God loves the world. Suppose I said that I loved the people in India, I should not mean by that that I had any feeling about any individual soul of all those dusky millions, but only that I massed them all together; or made what people call a generalisation of them. But that is not the way in which God loves. He loves all because He loves each. And when we say, ‘God so loved the world,’ we have to break up the mass into its atoms, and to think of each atom as being an object of His love. We all stand out in God’s love just as we should do to one another’s eyes, if we were on the top of a mountain-ridge with a clear sunset sky behind us. Each little black dot of the long procession would be separately visible. And we all stand out like that, every man of us isolated, and getting as much of the love of God as if there was not another creature in the whole universe but God and ourselves. Have you ever realised that when we say, ‘He loved the world,’ that really means, as far as each of us is concerned, He loves me? And just as the whole beams of the sun come pouring down into every eye of the crowd that is looking up to it, so the whole love of God pours down, not upon a multitude, an abstraction, a community, but upon every single soul that makes up that community. He loves us all because He loves us each. We shall never get all the good of that thought until we translate it, and lay it upon our hearts. It is all very well to say, ‘Ah yes! God is love,’ and it is all very well to say He loves ‘the world.’ But I will tell you what is a great deal better-to say-what Paul said-’Who loved me and gave Himself for me.’

Now, there is one other suggestion that I would make to you before I go on, and that is that all through the New Testament, but especially in John’s Gospel, ‘the world’ does not only mean men, but sinful men, men separated from God. And the great and blessed truth taught here is that, however I may drag myself away from God, I cannot drive Him away from me, and that however little I may care for Him, or love Him, or think about Him, it does not make one hairs-breadth of difference as to the fact that He loves me. I know, of course, that if a man does not love Him back again, God’s love has to take shapes that it would not otherwise take, which may be extremely inconvenient for the man. But though the shape may alter, must alter, the fact remains; and every sinful soul on the earth, including Judas Iscariot-who is said to head the list of crimes-has God’s love resting upon him.

II. The river.

Now, to go back to my metaphor, the lake makes a river. ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.’

So then, it was not Christ’s death that turned God from hating and being angry, but it was God’s love that appointed Christ’s death. If you will only remember that, a great many of the shallow and popular objections to the great doctrine of the Atonement disappear at once. ‘God so loved . . . that He gave.’ But some people say that when we preach that Jesus Christ died for our sins, that God’s wrath might not fall upon men, our teaching is immoral, because it means ‘Christ came, and so God loved.’ It is the other way about, friend. ‘God so loved . . . that He gave.’

But now let me carry you back to the Old Testament. Do you remember the story of the father taking his boy who carried the bundle of wood and the fire, and tramping over the mountains till they reached the place where the sacrifice was to be offered? Do you remember the boy’s question that brings tears quickly to the reader’s eyes: ‘Here is the wood, and here is the fire, where is the lamb’? Do you not think it would be hard for the father to steady his voice and say, ‘My son, God will provide the lamb’? And do you remember the end of that story? ‘The Angel of the Lord said unto Abraham, Because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from Me, therefore blessing I will bless thee,’ etc. Remember that one of the Apostles said, using the very same word that is used in Genesis as to Abraham’s giving up his son to God, ‘He spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up to the death for us all.’ Does not that point to a mysterious parallel? Somehow or other-we have no right to attempt to say how-somehow or other, God not only sent His Son, as it is said in the next verse to my text, but far more tenderly, wonderfully, pathetically, God gave-gave up His Son, and the sacrifice was enhanced, because it was His only begotten Son.

Ah! dear brethren, do not let us be afraid of following out all that is included in that great word, ‘God . . . loved the world.’ For there is no love which does not delight in giving, and there is no love that does not delight in depriving itself, in some fashion, of what it gives. And I, for my part, believe that Paul’s words are to be taken in all their blessed depth and wonderfulness of meaning when he says, ‘He gave up’-as well as gave-’Him to the death for us all.’

And now, do you not think that we are able in some measure to estimate the greatness of that little word ‘so’? ‘God so loved’-so deeply, so holily, so perfectly-that He ‘gave His only begotten Son’; and the gift of that Son is, as it were, the river by which the love of God comes to every soul in the world.

Now there are a great many people who would like to put the middle part of this great text of ours into a parenthesis. They say that we should bring the first words and the last words of this text together, and never mind all that lies between. People who do not like the doctrine of the Cross would say, ‘God so loved the world that He gave . . . everlasting life’; and there an end. ‘If there is a God, and if He loves the world, why cannot He save the world without more ado? There is no need for these interposed clauses. God so loved the world that everybody will go to heaven’-that is the gospel of a great many of you; and it is the gospel of a great many wise and learned people. But it is not John’s Gospel, and it is not Christ’s Gospel. The beginning and the end of the text cannot be buckled up together in that rough-and-ready fashion. They have to be linked by a chain; and there are two links in the chain: God forges the one, and we have to forge the other. ‘God so loved the world that He gave’-then He has done His work. ‘That whosoever believeth’-that is your work. And it is in vain that God forges His link, unless you will forge yours and link it up to His. ‘God so loved the world,’ that is step number one in the process; ‘that He gave,’ that is step number two; and then there comes another ‘that’-’that whosoever believeth,’ that is step number three; and they are all needed before you come to number four, which is the landing-place and not a step-’should not perish, but have everlasting life.’

III. The pitcher.

I come to what I called the pitcher, with which we draw the water for our own use-’that whosoever believeth.’ You perhaps say, ‘Yes, I believe. I accept every word of the Gospel, I quite believe that Jesus Christ died, as a matter of history; and I quite believe that He died for men’s sins.’ And what then? Is that what Jesus Christ meant by believing? To believe about Him is not to believe on Him; and unless you believe on Him you will get no good out of Him. There is the lake, and the river must flow past the shanties in the clearing in the forest, if the men there are to drink. But it may flow past their doors, as broad as the Mississippi, and as deep as the ocean; but they will perish with thirst, unless they dip in their hands, like Gideon’s men, and carry the water to their own lips. Dear friend, what you have to do-and your soul’s salvation, and your peace and joy and nobleness in this life and in the next depend absolutely upon it-is simply to trust in Jesus Christ and His death for your sins.

I sometimes wish we had never heard that word ‘faith.’ For as soon as we begin to talk about ‘faith,’ people begin to think that we are away up in some theological region far above everyday life. Suppose we try to bring it down a little nearer to our businesses and bosoms, and instead of using a word that is kept sacred for employment in religious matters, and saying ‘faith,’ we say ‘trust.’ That is what you give to your wives and husbands, is it not? And that is exactly what you have to give to Jesus Christ, simply to lay hold of Him as a man lays hold of the heart that loves him, and leans his whole weight upon it. Lean hard on Him, hang on Him, or, to take the other metaphor that is one of the Old Testament words for trust, ‘flee for refuge’ to Him. Fancy a man with the avenger of blood at his back, and the point of the pursuer’s spear almost pricking his spine-don’t you think he would make for the City of Refuge with some speed? That is what you have to do. He that believeth, and by trust lays hold of the Hand that holds him up, will never fall; and he that does not lay hold of that Hand will never stand, to say nothing of rising. And so by these two links God’s love of the world is connected with the salvation of the world.

IV. The draught.

Finally, we have here the draught of living water. Did you ever think why our text puts ‘should not perish’ first? Is it not because, unless we put our trust in Him, we shall certainly perish, and because, therefore, that certainty of perishing must be averted before we can have ‘everlasting life’?

Now I am not going to enlarge on these two solemn expressions, ‘perishing’ and ‘everlasting life.’ I only say this: men do not need to wait until they die before they ‘perish.’ There are men and women here now who are dead-dead while they live, and when they come to die, the perishing, which is condemnation and ruin, will only be the making visible, in another condition of life, of what is the fact to-day. Dear brethren, you do not need to die in order to perish in your sins, and, blessed be God, you can have everlasting life before you die. You can have it now, and there is only one way to have it, and that is to lay hold of Him who is the Life. And when you have Jesus Christ in your heart, whom you will be sure to have if you trust Him, then you will have life-life eternal, here and now, and death will only make manifest the eternal life which you had while you were alive here, and will perfect it in fashions that we do not yet know anything about.

Only remember, as I have been trying to show you, the order that runs through this text. Remember the order of these last words, and that we must first of all be delivered from eternal and utter death, before we can be invested with the eternal and absolute life.

Now, dear brethren, I dare say I have never spoken to the great majority of you before; it is quite possible I may never speak to any of you again. I have asked God to help me to speak so as that souls should be drawn to the Saviour. And I beseech you now, as my last word, that you would listen, not to me, but to Him. For it is He that says to us, ‘God so loved the world, that He gave His Son, that whosoever’-’whosoever,’ a blank cheque, like the M. or N. of the Prayer-book, or the A. B. of a schedule; you can put your own name in it-’that whosoever believeth on Him shall not perish, but have’-here, now-’everlasting life.’

John 3:16-19. For God so loved the world, &c. — Here our Lord proceeds to inform Nicodemus, that men owed the blessings above mentioned to the free and immense love of God the Father, who desired their salvation with such ardency, that he sent his only-begotten Son to bestow it upon them; and that it is designed for all that will accept of it in the way God hath appointed. God, says he, so loved the world, that is, all men under heaven; even those that despise his love, and will for that cause finally perish, that he gave his only-begotten Son, truly and seriously: and the Son of God gave himself, (Galatians 2:20,) truly and seriously; that whosoever believeth in him — With that faith which worketh by love, and holdeth fast the beginning of his confidence steadfast to the end; should not perish — Under the sentence of divine justice, as he otherwise must have done; but have everlasting life — The life of grace, and the life of glory, through the mere mercy of God, and the infinite merits of his Son. For God sent not his Son to condemn the world — To execute that vengeance upon them which their guilt might have taught them to fear; nor did he send him to destroy the Gentile nations, which prejudiced Jews have supposed would be one principal end of the Messiah’s coming. God, says Grotius, is often described as an avenger in the Old Testament: therefore the guilty might reasonably expect, that when his Son came into the world, it would be to execute vengeance in his Father’s name. But that the world through him might be saved — Even all, without exception, who will hearken to the overtures of the gospel. He that believeth on him — With his heart unto righteousness; is not condemned — Is acquitted, is justified before God, how many and great soever his past sins may have been, and however unpardonable according to the tenor of the Mosaic law: but he that believeth not — Whatever his external profession and privileges may be; is condemned already — Remains under the sentence of his former guilt; yea, and subjects himself, by his refusal of the only remedy, to still greater and more aggravated condemnation and wo; because, notwithstanding the incontrovertible evidence given of Jesus’s divine mission, and of his being the true Messiah, he hath not believed in the name, the glorious name of the only-begotten Son of God — Though expressly revealed to him, that he might believe in him. “Though the name of a person be often put for the person himself, yet it may be further intimated here, in that expression, that the person spoken of is greatly magnificent; and therefore it is generally used to express either God the Father, or our Lord Jesus Christ.” — Doddridge. And this is the condemnation — The cause of it, the crime that fills up the measure of men’s iniquities, and is the principal reason of their speedy and final ruin; that light is come into the world — Divine and glorious light, the day-spring from on high, the light of the glorious gospel, through the incarnation of the Eternal Word, and the preaching of his forerunner preparing the way before him; and men loved darkness rather than light — Ignorance of the divine truth rather than the knowledge of it, folly rather than wisdom, sin rather than righteousness; because their deeds were evil — And they had not so much fear of God before their eyes, or so much concern for their own everlasting salvation, as to resolve on a thorough reformation of their conduct.

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?For God so loved - This does not mean that God approved the conduct of men, but that he had benevolent feelings toward them, or was "earnestly desirous" of their happiness. God hates wickedness, but he still desires the Happiness of those who are sinful. "He hates the sin, but loves the sinner." A parent may love his child and desire his welfare, and yet be strongly opposed to the conduct of that child. When we approve the conduct of another, this is the love of complacency; when we desire simply their happiness, this is the love of benevolence.

The world - All mankind. It does not mean any particular part of the world, but man as man - the race that had rebelled and that deserved to die. See John 6:33; John 17:21. His love for the world, or for all mankind, in giving his Son, was shown by these circumstances:

1. All the world was in ruin, and exposed to the wrath of God.

2. All people were in a hopeless condition.

3. God gave his Son. Man had no claim on him; it was a gift - an undeserved gift.

4. He gave him up to extreme sufferings, even the bitter pains of death on the cross.

5. It was for all the world. He tasted "death for every man," Hebrews 2:9. He "died for all," 2 Corinthians 5:15. "He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world," 1 John 2:2.

That he gave - It was a free and unmerited gift. Man had no claim: and when there was no eye to pity or arm to save, it pleased God to give his Son into the hands of men to die in their stead, Galatians 1:4; Romans 8:32; Luke 22:19. It was the mere movement of love; the expression of eternal compassion, and of a desire, that sinners should not perish forever.

His only-begotten Son - See the notes at John 1:14. This is the highest expression of love of which we can conceive. A parent who should give up his only son to die for others who are guilty if this could or might be done - would show higher love than could be manifested in any other way. So it shows the depth of the love of God, that he was willing. to give his only Son into the hands of sinful men that he might be slain, and thus redeem them from eternal sorrow.

16. For God so loved, &c.—What proclamation of the Gospel has been so oft on the lips of missionaries and preachers in every age since it was first uttered? What has sent such thrilling sensations through millions of mankind? What has been honored to bring such multitudes to the feet of Christ? What to kindle in the cold and selfish breasts of mortals the fires of self-sacrificing love to mankind, as these words of transparent simplicity, yet overpowering majesty? The picture embraces several distinct compartments: "The World"—in its widest sense—ready "to perish"; the immense "Love of God" to that perishing world, measurable only, and conceivable only, by the gift which it drew forth from Him; THE Gift itself—"He so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son," or, in the language of Paul, "spared not His own Son" (Ro 8:32), or in that addressed to Abraham when ready to offer Isaac on the altar, "withheld not His Son, His only Son, whom He loved" (Ge 22:16); the Fruit of this stupendous gift—not only deliverance from impending "perdition," but the bestowal of everlasting life; the MODE in which all takes effect—by "believing" on the Son. How would Nicodemus' narrow Judaism become invisible in the blaze of this Sun of righteousness seen rising on "the world" with healing in His wings! (Mal 4:2). For God the Father, who is the Lord of all, debtor to none, sufficient to himself,

so loved the world, that is, Gentiles as well as Jews. There is a great contest about the signification of the term, between those who contend for or against the point of universal redemption; but certain it is, that from this term no more can be solidly concluded, than from the terms all and every, which in multitudes of places are taken in a restrained sense for many, or all of such a nation or kind. As this term sometimes signifies all persons, so, in 1Jo 2:21, the Gentiles in opposition to the Jews. Nor, admitting that

the world should signify here every living soul in the place called the world, will any thing follow from it. It is proper enough to say, A man loved such a family to such a degree that he gave his estate to it, though he never intended such a thing to every child or branch of it. So as what is truth in that so vexed a question cannot be determined from any of these universal terms; which must, when all is said that can be said, be expounded by what follows them, and by their reconcilableness to other doctrines of faith.

God so loved the world that he gave his Son to die for a sacrifice for their sins, to die in their stead, and give a satisfaction for them to his justice. And this Son was not any of his sons by adoption, but his only begotten Son; not so called (as Socinians would have it) because of his singular generation of the virgin without help of man, but from his eternal generation, in whom the Gentiles should trust, Psalm 2:12, which none ought to do, but in God alone, Deu 6:13 Jeremiah 17:5.

That whosoever, &c.: the term all is spoken to above; these words restrain the universal term world, and all, to let us know that Christ only died for some in the world, viz. such as should believe in him. Some judge, not improbably, that Christ useth the term world in this verse in the same sense as in 1Jo 2:2. Our evangelist useth to take down the pride of the Jews, who dreamed that the Messiah came only for the benefit of the seed of Abraham, not for the nations of the world, he only came to destroy them; which notion also very well fitteth what we have in the next verse.

For God so loved the world,.... The Persic version reads "men": but not every man in the world is here meant, or all the individuals of human nature; for all are not the objects of God's special love, which is here designed, as appears from the instance and evidence of it, the gift of his Son: nor is Christ God's gift to every one; for to whomsoever he gives his Son, he gives all things freely with him; which is not the case of every man. Nor is human nature here intended, in opposition to, and distinction from, the angelic nature; for though God has showed a regard to fallen men, and not to fallen angels, and has provided a Saviour for the one, and not for the other; and Christ has assumed the nature of men, and not angels; yet not for the sake of all men, but the spiritual seed of Abraham; and besides, it will not be easily proved, that human nature is ever called the world: nor is the whole body of the chosen ones, as consisting of Jews and Gentiles, here designed; for though these are called the world, John 6:33; and are the objects of God's special love, and to them Christ is given, and they are brought to believe in him, and shall never perish, but shall be saved with an everlasting salvation; yet rather the Gentiles particularly, and God's elect among them, are meant; who are often called "the world", and "the whole world", and "the nations of the world", as distinct from the Jews; see Romans 11:12, compared with Matthew 6:32. The Jews had the same distinction we have now, the church and the world; the former they took to themselves, and the latter they gave to all the nations around: hence we often meet with this distinction, Israel, and the nations of the world; on those words,

""let them bring forth their witness", that they may be justified, Isaiah 43:9 (say (b) the doctors) these are Israel; "or let them hear and say it is truth", these are "the nations of the world".''

And again (c),

"the holy, blessed God said to Israel, when I judge Israel, I do not judge them as "the nations of the world":''

and so in a multitude of places: and it should be observed, that our Lord was now discoursing with a Jewish Rabbi, and that he is opposing a commonly received notion of theirs, that when the Messiah came, the Gentiles should have no benefit or advantage by him, only the Israelites; so far should they be from it, that, according to their sense, the most dreadful judgments, calamities, and curses, should befall them; yea, hell and eternal damnation.

"There is a place (they say (d),) the name of which is "Hadrach", Zechariah 9:1. This is the King Messiah, who is, , "sharp and tender"; sharp to "the nations", and tender to "Israel".''

And so of the "sun of righteousness", in Malachi 4:2, they say (e),

"there is healing for the Israelites in it: but the idolatrous nations shall be burnt by it.''

And that (f).

"there is mercy for Israel, but judgment for the rest of the nations.''

And on those words in Isaiah 21:12, "the morning cometh", and also the night, they observe (g),

"the morning is for the righteous, and the night for the wicked; the morning is for Israel, and the night for "the nations of the world".''

And again (h),

"in the time to come, (the times of the Messiah,) the holy, blessed God will bring "darkness" upon "the nations", and will enlighten Israel, as it is said, Isaiah 60:2.''


{5} For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth {o} in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

(5) Nothing else but the free love of the Father is the beginning of our salvation, and Christ is he in whom our righteousness and salvation dwells: and faith is the instrument or means by which we apprehend it, and everlasting life is that which is set before us to apprehend.

(o) It is not the same to believe in a thing, and to believe about a thing, for we may not believe in anything except in God alone, but we may believe about anything whatever, says Nazianzene in his Oration of the Spirit.

John 3:16. Continuation of the address of Jesus to Nicodemus, onwards to John 3:21,[162] not, as Erasmus, Rosenmüller, Kuinoel, Paulus, Neander, Tholuck, Olshausen, Maier think (see also Bäumlein), an explanatory meditation of the evangelist’s own; an assumption justified neither by anything in the text nor by the word ΜΟΝΟΓΕΝΉς, a word which must have been transferred from the language of John to the mouth of Jesus (not vice versa, as Hengstenberg thinks), for it is never elsewhere used by Christ, often as He speaks of His divine sonship. See on John 1:14. The reflective character of the following discourse is so fully compatible with the design of Christ to instruct, and the preterites ἠγάπησαν and ἮΝ so little require to be explained from the standing-point of a later time, that there does not seem any sufficient basis for the intermediate view (of Lücke, De Wette, Brückner), that in this continued account of the discourse of Jesus, John 3:16 ff., John inserts more explanations and reflections of his own than in the preceding part, how little soever such a supposition would (as Kling and Hengstenberg think) militate against the trustworthiness of John, who, in recording the longer discourses, has exactly in his own living recollection the abundant guarantee of substantial certainty.

οὕτω] so much; see on Galatians 3:3.

γάρ] reason of the purpose stated in John 3:15.

ἨΓΆΠΗΣΕΝ] loved, with reference to the time of the ἔδωκεν.

τὸν κόσμον] i.e. mankind at large,[163] comp. πᾶς, John 3:15; John 17:2; 1 John 2:2.

ΤῸΝ ΜΟΝΟΓ.] to make the proof of His love the stronger, 1 John 4:9; Hebrews 11:17; Romans 8:32.

ἔδωκεν] He did not reserve Him for Himself, but gave Him, i.e. to the world. The word means more than ἀπέστειλεν (John 3:17), which expresses[164] the manner of the ἔδωκεν, though it does not specially denote the giving up to death, but the state of humiliation as a whole, upon which God caused His Son to enter when He left His pre-existent glory (John 17:5), and the final act of which was to be His death (1 John 4:10). The Indicative following, ὥστε, describes the act objectively as something actually done. See on Galatians 2:13; and Klotz ad Devar. 772.

μὴ ἀπόληται, κ.τ.λ.] Concerning the subjunctive, representing an object as present, see Winer, 271 [E. T. p. 377]. The change from the Aorist to the Present is to be noted, whereby the being utterly ruined (by banishment to hell in the Messianic judgment) is spoken of as an act in process of accomplishment; while the possession of the Messianic ζωή is described as now already existing (commencing with regeneration), and as abiding for ever. Comp. on John 3:15.

[162] Luther rightly praised “the majesty, simplicity, clearness, expressiveness, truth, charm” of this discourse. He “exceedingly and beyond measure loved” this text.

[163] This declaration is the rock upon which the absolute predestination doctrine goes to pieces, and the supposed (by Baur and Hilgenfeld) metaphysical dualism of the anthropology of St. John. Calovius well unfolds our text thus: (1) salutis principium (ἠγάπ.); (2) dilectionis objectum (the κόσμος, not the electi); (3) donum amplissimum (His only-begotten Son); (4) pactum gratiosissimum (faith, not works); (5) finem missionis Christi saluberrimum.

[164] Weizsäcker in the Zeitschr. f. Deutsche Theol. 1857, p. 176, erroneously finds wanting in John an intimation on the part of Christ that He is the Logos who came voluntarily to the world. He is, however, the Logos sent of God, who undertook this mission in the feeling of obedience. Thus the matter is presented throughout the N. T., and the thought that Christ came αὐτοθελής is quite foreign thereto.

John 3:16. Several conservative theologians, Neander, Tholuck, Westcott, are of opinion that the words of Jesus end with John 3:15, and that from John 3:16-21 we have an addition by the evangelist. There is much to be said in favour of this idea. The thoughts of these verses are explanatory rather than progressive. John 3:16-17 repeat the object of Christ’s mission, which has already been stated. John 3:18-19 declare the historic results in faith and unbelief, results which at the date of the conversation were not conspicuous. John 3:20-21 exhibit the causes of faith and unbelief. The tenses also forbid us to refer the passage directly to Jesus. In His lips the present would have been more natural. To John looking back on the finished story aorists and perfects are natural. Also, the designation “only begotten son” is not one of the names by which Jesus designates Himself, but it is used by the evangelist, John 1:18 and 1 John 4:9.—οὕτω γὰρ ἠγάπησενζωὴν αἰώνιον. The love of God for the world of men is the source of Christ’s mission with all its blessings. It was this which prompted Him to “give,” that is, to give not solely to the death of the cross alluded to in John 3:14, but to all that the world required for salvation, His only begotten Son. “The change from the aorist (ἀπόληται) to the present (ἔχῃ) is to be noted, the utter ruin being spoken of as an act, the possession of life eternal as an enduring experience” (Meyer, Weiss, Holtzmann).

16. For] Explaining how God wills eternal life to every one that believeth.

loved the world] The whole human race: see on John 1:10. This would be a revelation to the exclusive Pharisee, brought up to believe that God loved only the chosen people. The word for ‘love,’ agapân, is very frequent both in this Gospel and in the First Epistle, and may be considered characteristic of S. John.

that he gave his only begotten] This would be likely to remind Nicodemus of the offering of Isaac. Comp. 1 John 4:9; Hebrews 11:17; Romans 8:32. See note on John 1:14.

everlasting life] The Greek is the same as in the previous verse, and the translation should be the same, eternal life. ‘Eternal life’ is one of the phrases of which S. John is fond. It occurs 17 times in the Gospel (only eight in the Synoptics) and six times in the First Epistle. In neither Gospel nor Epistle is ‘eternal’ (aiônios) applied to anything but ‘life.’ On aiônios, which of itself does not necessarily mean ‘everlasting’ or ‘unending,’ see note on Matthew 25:46.

16–21. It is much disputed whether what follows is a continuation of Christ’s discourse, or the comment of the Evangelist upon it. The fact that terms characteristic of S. John’s theology are put into the mouth of Christ, e.g. ‘only-begotten’ and ‘the Light,’ cannot settle the question: the substance may still be our Lord’s, though the wording is S. John’s. It seems unlikely that S. John would give us no indication of the change from Christ’s words to his own, if the discourse with Nicodemus really came to a full stop in John 3:15. See on John 3:31-36.

John 3:16. Ἠγάπησεν, loved) The Son knows the Father, and the love of the Father: and alone [though but one] bears the best witness [of Him]: comp. John 3:35, “The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into His hand.”—τὸν κόσμον, the world) [all] the men under heaven, even those who were about to perish (comp. δέ, [autem] moreover—for indeed, John 3:19, “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light”): as being those with whom He was otherwise [i.e. but for the atonement through His Son] angry: John 3:36, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: but he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.” Were it not for this, their unbelief would not properly be a fault [guilt] fatal to unbelievers; [but as it is] they ought to have believed that the Son of God was given even for the sake of them also; therefore He was given for their sake. Comp. by all means ch. John 12:47, “If any man hear My words and believe not, I judge him not; for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world—the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.” Mich. Beckius, “I heard an interpretation (as truly as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who knows I lie not, loves me) at an inn in Strasburg, in the year 1681, from a possessed woman, through whom Satan in the Latin tongue, in answer to that saying [of Scripture], which I brought against Satan to prove the universal love of God, even extending to that wretched woman still living in the world [according to the then prevalent superstition], whose name was Salome—replied in turn, with a horrible groan, in these words, The believing are the world” [meant].—Disquis. hermen., p. 5.—ἔδωκεν) gave [to be crucified.—V. g.], in truth, and in earnest [in act and in purpose]: Romans 8:32, “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how” etc. And Christ gave Himself, Galatians 2:20, “The Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me,” in truth and in earnest.—εἰς αὐτόν, in Him) as having been [so] lovingly given by God.

Verses 16-21. -

(3) Divine love and judgment. Verse 16. - For God so loved the world. The Divine love to the whole of humanity in its condition of supreme need, i.e. apart from himself and his grace, has been of such a commanding, exhaustless, immeasurable kind, that it was equal to any emergency, and able to secure for the worst and most degraded, for the outcast, the serpent-bitten and the dying, a means of unlimited deliverance and uplifting. The Divine love is the sublime source of the whole proceeding, and it has been lavished on "the world." This world cannot be the limited "world" of the Augustinian, Calvinian interpreters - the world of the elect; it is that "whole world" of which St. John speaks in 1 John 2:2. "God will have all men to be saved" (1 Timothy 2:4). Calvin himself says, "Christ brought life, because the heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish." Pharisaic interpretations of the Old Testament had left the outside world in judgment, to cursing and condign punishment, and had made Abrahamic descent and sacramental privilege the conditions of life and honour and royal freedom. Here the poor world is seen to be the object of such love, that he - the Father-God - gave, "delivered up," we do not know certainly to "what," but we may judge from the context that it was such a deliverance, or such giving up. as is involved in the uplifting of the Son of man upon his cross of humiliation and shame. But the Lord in,educes a more wonderful term to denote his own personality. This "Son of man" is none other than his only begotten Son (cf. notes, John 1:14, 18). Just as Abraham had not kept back his only begotten son from God, so God has not withheld his perfect Image, his Well-beloved, his Eternal Logos, the perfect ideal of sonship. He gave him with the following view: that whosoever believeth in him (εἰς αὐτὸν) may not perish, but have eternal life. The previous saying is repeated as in a grand refrain for which a deeper reason and fuller explanation have been supplied. Perishing, ruin, the issues of poisonous corruption, might and would, by the force of natural law, work themselves out in the destinies of men. The awful curse was spreading, but it may be arrested. None need be excluded. Looking is living. Believing in this manifestation of Divine love is enough. This is the first, high, main condition. Appropriation of such a Divine gift unriddles the mysteries of the universe, emancipates from the agelong bondage, confers a life which is beyond the conditions or occasions of dissolution. This verse is infinite in its range, and, notwithstanding a certain vagueness and indefiniteness of expression, presents and enshrines the most central truth of Divine revelation. When the terms "gave," "only begotten Son," "believeth," "life," "perishing," "God," "the world," are fully interpreted, then the words of this text gather an ever-augmenting force and fulness of meaning; and they may have been expanded to meet the prejudices of Nicodemus or the difficulties of disciples. The idea of gift and giver and the ends of the giving may have at once suggested to the Pharisaic mind the grand distinction between Israel and the world, and the inquiry may have been made - Is not Messiah, then, about to judge the world, to summon all the nations round to hear their doom? To some such heart-deadening query, to some such conscience-benumbing scepticism, our Lord continued - No; this love to the world on the part of God, this condition of faith on the side of man, thus laid down, is perfectly honest and sincere - John 3:16The world (κόσμον)

See on John 1:9.


Rather than sent; emphasizing the idea of sacrifice.

Only-begotten Son

See on John 1:14.


See on John 3:15.

This attitude of God toward the world is in suggestive contrast with that in which the gods of paganism are represented.

Thus Juno says to Vulcan:

"Dear son, refrain: it is not well that thus

A God should suffer for the sake of men."

"Iliad," xxi., 379, 380.

And Apollo to Neptune:


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