John 3:27
John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.
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(27) A man can receive nothing . . .—Do these words apply to the Baptist himself, or to Christ? Do they mean “I cannot assume this higher position which you wish to give me, because it is not given me by heaven;” or, “His work, with its influence over men, ought to convince you that His mission is divine “? Expositors have given, now this, now that answer. The immediate connection with John 3:26 points to the latter view as the correct one (but see Alford’s Note on the other side). The power that had shown itself in word and work, teaching as none ever taught before, binding men—aye, some of their own brotherhood—to Himself, convincing men whose minds were open to the truth that He was the very Christ—all this could only have been received from heaven. Did they feel the movement around them? Let them recognise it as divine, and seek to be borne with it. (See Note on John 6:36.)

John 3:27-29. John answered — With a humility and integrity agreeable to the rest of his character, A man can receive nothing — Neither he, nor I, nor any man; unless it be given him from heaven — Whence every good gift cometh, James 1:18; a general truth, very applicable in this case. Different employments are according to the direction of Divine Providence; different endowments according to the distribution of divine grace. We have as necessary and constant a dependance upon the grace of God in all the actions of the spiritual life, as we have upon the providence of God in all those of the natural life. Dr. Macknight paraphrases the passage thus: “A man of God, or prophet, can assume no greater dignity and authority, than God has thought fit to confer on him. Ye yourselves bear me witness — For you cannot but remember, that I said — Very expressly; I am not the Christ — I never pretended to be the Messiah, as you very well know; but when you asked me, I told you I was only his harbinger sent before, to give you notice of his coming, and to prepare you for receiving him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom, &c. — So far am I from envying his growing fame, or the number of his disciples, that I greatly rejoice in both; just as the bridegroom’s friend, who is appointed to stand and hear him converse with his bride, rejoices in the love she expresses to him; of which love the friend forms an idea likewise, by what he hears the bridegroom say to her in return. My highest joy, therefore, is, that men cheerfully submit to the Messiah, and pay him all due honour.” Thus John was so far from regretting the advancement of Christ and his interest: as his disciples did, that he rejoiced in it, expressing his joy by an elegant, well-known, and expressive similitude. As if he had said, “Do all men come to him? It is well: whither else should they go? Has he got the throne in men’s affections? Who else should have it? It is his right. To whom should the bride be brought but to the bridegroom? The Word was made flesh, that the disparity of nature might not be a bar to the union; provision is made for the purifying of the church, that the defilement of sin might be no bar. Christ espouses the church to himself: he has the bride, for he has her love and her promise.” All that John had done in preaching and baptizing, he had done as the friend of the bridegroom, to introduce him to the bride, recommend him to her affections, prepare her for him, and in other respects do him honour and service; and now that he was come, had gained her love, and betrothed her to himself; John had what he wished for, and rejoiced. Thus faithful ministers, as friends of the bridegroom, recommend him to the affections and choice of mankind; and the espousing of souls to Christ in faith and love, is the fulfilling of their joy.3:22-36 John was fully satisfied with the place and work assigned him; but Jesus came on a more important work. He also knew that Jesus would increase in honour and influence, for of his government and peace there would be no end, while he himself would be less followed. John knew that Jesus came from heaven as the Son of God, while he was a sinful, mortal man, who could only speak about the more plain subjects of religion. The words of Jesus were the words of God; he had the Spirit, not by measure, as the prophets, but in all fulness. Everlasting life could only be had by faith in Him, and might be thus obtained; whereas all those, who believe not in the Son of God, cannot partake of salvation, but the wrath of God for ever rests upon them.John answered ... - John did not enter into their feelings or sympathize with their love of party. He came to honor Jesus, not to build up a sect, He rejoiced at the success of the Messiah, and began to teach them to rejoice in it also.

A man can receive nothing ... - All success is from heaven. All my success was from God. All the success of Jesus is from God. As success comes from the same source, we ought not to be envious. It is designed to answer the same end, and, by whomsoever accomplished, the hand of God is in it, and we should rejoice. If Jesus and his disciples are successful, if all men flee to him, it is proof that God favors him, and you should rejoice.

27-30. A man, &c.—"I do my heaven-prescribed work, and that is enough for me. Would you have me mount into my Master's place? Said I not unto you, I am not the Christ? The Bride is not mine, why should the people stay with me?? Mine it is to point the burdened to the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world, to tell them there is Balm in Gilead, and a Physician there. And shall I grudge to see them, in obedience to the call, flying as a cloud, and as doves to their windows? Whose is the Bride but the Bridegroom's? Enough for me to be the Bridegroom's friend, sent by Him to negotiate the match, privileged to bring together the Saviour and those He is come to seek and to save, and rejoicing with joy unspeakable if I may but 'stand and hear the Bridegroom's voice,' witnessing the blessed espousals. Say ye, then, they go from me to Him? Ye bring me glad tidings of great joy. He must increase, but I must decrease; this, my joy, therefore is fulfilled."

A man can receive, &c.—assume nothing, that is, lawfully and with any success; that is, Every man has his work and sphere appointed him from above, Even Christ Himself came under this law (Heb 5:4).

The ministry, and the success of the ministry, must both be given a man from heaven: doth he baptize? It is a sign he is sent of God. Do all men come to him? That also is from God. An excellent corrective of ambition, envy, and jealousy: no man hath in the church of God authority, but he to whom it is given from heaven; no authority over his Son. John answered and said,.... The Syriac and Arabic versions add, "to them"; the answer being made to the disciples of John, who came to him with their complaint:

a man can receive nothing; the Syriac and Persic versions add, "of his own will": some understand this of Christ, as man, who did not take upon him the character of the Messiah, nor the office of a Mediator, nor the honour of it of himself; and who received the gifts and graces of the Spirit of God, without measure, and had his success in his work from above: and indeed, it is true of both Christ, and John; for as Christ, so John received his office, and honour, as the harbinger and forerunner of Christ, and all his gifts qualifying for it, and his success in it, not of himself, but of God: and since therefore the superior office, and honour, and usefulness of the one above the other, were according to the sovereign will of God, there was no room for complaint, murmuring, and envy; but there ought to be contentment and pleasure in the wise disposition of things by God. Yea, this is true of every man, who has nothing of his own; and whatever he has in nature, providence and grace, is a gift to him; and all he enjoys is in a way of receiving: nor can he receive it,

except it be given him from heaven; from God who dwells there; See Gill on Matthew 21:25; who is the author and donor of every gift, temporal, spiritual, and eternal; particularly he cannot perceive, and discern spiritual things, nor receive Gospel truths; as it appeared to John his disciples could not, unless spiritual light is given from above; and such a favour is bestowed, as to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven: and therefore, for every office, whether of a superior, or inferior kind, and for every degree of honour, and for whatsoever blessing and gift, whether for soul or body, for time, or for eternity, men ought to be thankful, and not glory in them, as though they had not received them; nor is there any reason to murmur against God, or envy one another, as these disciples did.

John answered and said, A man {u} can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.

(u) Why are you trying to better my state? This is every man's lot and portion, that he cannot better himself in the slightest way.

John 3:27-28. The Baptist at first answers them, putting his reply in the form of a general truth, that the greater activity and success of Jesus was given Him of God, and next reminds them of the subordinate position which he held in relation to Jesus. The reference of the general affirmation to the Baptist himself, who would mean by it: “non possum mihi arrogare et rapere, quae Deus non dedit,” Wetstein (so Cyril, Rupertus, Beza, Clarius, Jansen, Bengel, Lücke, Maier, Hengstenberg, Godet, and others), is not in keeping with the context; for the petty, jealous complaint of the disciples, John 3:26, has merely prepared the way for a vindication of Jesus on the part of the Baptist; and as in what follows with this intent, the comparison between the two, as they, in John 3:27-28, according to our interpretation, stand face to face with each other, is thoroughly carried out; see John 3:29-31; so that Jesus is always first characterized, and then John. We must not therefore take John 3:27 as referring to both (Kuinoel, Tholuck, Lange, Brückner, Ewald, Luthardt[171]).

Οὐ ΔΎΝΑΤΑΙ] relatively, i.e. according to divine ordination.

ἄνθρωπος] quite general, a man, any one; not as Hengstenberg, referring it to John, renders it: “because I am merely a man.”

λαμβάνειν] not arrogate to himself (ἑαυτῷ λαμβ., Hebrews 5:4), but simply to receive, answering to be given.

αὐτοὶ ὑμεῖς] though you are so irritated about him.

ΜΑΡΤΥΡ.] Indic: ye are yourselves my witnesses, see John 1:19-28, the substance of which John sums up in the words οὐκ εἰμὶ, etc. They had themselves appealed (John 3:26) to his ΜΑΡΤΥΡΊΑ concerning Jesus, but he ΠΕΡΙΤΡΈΠΕΙ ΤΑΎΤΗΝ ΚΑΘʼ ΑὐΤῶΝ, Euthymius Zigabenus.

ἈΛΛʼ ὍΤΙ] Transition to dependent speech. Winer, p. 539 [E. T. p. 679 f.].

ἙΚΕΊΝΟΥ] referring not to the appellative Ὁ ΧΡΙΣΤΌς, but to Jesus as the Χριστός.

[171] Who, in keeping with his view of ver. 26, takes ver. 27 to mean: “The work of both of us is divinely ordained, and therefore I, for my own part, am justified in continuing my work after the appearance of Jesus, so long at least as the self-witness of Jesus is not believed.”John 3:27. His answer sufficiently shows that it was not rivalry that prompted him to continue his baptism.—οὐ δύναταιοὐρανοῦ. The general sense is obvious (cf. Psalm 75:6-7; Psalm 127:1; Jam 1:17; 1 Corinthians 3:7), but did John mean to apply the principle directly to himself or to Jesus? Wetstein prefers the former: “non possum mihi arrogare et rapere, quae Deus non dedit”. So Calvin, Beza [“quid conamini meae conditioni aliquid adjicere?”], Bengel [“quomodo audeam ego, inquit, homines ad me adstringere?”], and Lücke. But, as Weiss points out, it is a justification of Jesus which the question of the disciples demands, and this is given in John’s statement that His popularity is God’s gift. But John avails himself of the opportunity to explain the relation he himself holds to Jesus.27. A man can receive nothing, &c.] Comp. John 19:11. The meaning of John’s declaration is given in two ways: (1) ‘Jesus could not have this great success, unless it were granted Him from Heaven. This ought to satisfy you that He is sent by God;’ (2) ‘I cannot accept the position of supremacy, which you would thrust upon me; because I have not received it from Heaven.’ The former is better, as being a more direct answer to ‘all men come to Him.’ But it is quite possible that both meanings are intended.

be given] More literally, have been given.John 3:27. Οὐ δύναται, cannot) How can I dare, saith he, to bind men to me?—ἄνθρωπος, a man) I, saith John, who am but a man.—λαμβάνειν) to take to himself.—οὐδέν, nothing) much less the name of Messiah.[58]—ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ, from heaven) i.e. from God. These Metonymes [substitutions of the general for the definite expression] imply modesty [humility].

[58] By very many proofs it was evident that John was not the Christ. For instance, I. John had no forerunner, but himself acted the part of a forerunuer, such as was becoming [to go before] Christ the Lord; wherefore, as well in birth, as in entrance on his ministry, and in his departure, he preceded Christ. II. John wrought no miracle: Christ very many. III. John, as well as his baptism, was restricted to the Jordan; whereas Christ shone as a light [illuminated all things] in Judea, Galilee, and the regions situated beyond Jordan. IV. John, after being for a considerable time detained in bonds, was at length slain in prison: Christ, without imprisonment up to His very death, nay, even being bound, and especially on the very day of His execution, in the sight of the world, did and spake all that became Him. V. John was beheaded: Christ’s body, though piteously afflicted, was yet not mutilated, bat remained preserved in that state which would be suitable to His resurrection about to take place on the third day.—Harm., p. 166, etc.Verses 27-32. -

(2) The earthly and heavenly commission. Verse 27. - John answered and said, A man can receive nothing - neither office, function, faculty, nor life work, in the kingdom of God - except it has been given him from heaven. The raying is broad, general, comprehensive, sustaining. It is not the glorification of success, but an explanation of the ground of high service. All good service, all high faculty, all holy mission, all sacred duty, are assigned to us by Heaven. "No man taketh this honour unto himself, unless he be called of God." Commentators have ranged themselves into three groups as to the primary application of the words.

(1) Those who have limited the mental reference to John himself. "My function is, as I am about to explain, a subordinate one," "I have received that and nothing else from heaven." "I cannot make myself into the Bridegroom of the Church, or the Light of the world, or the Baptizer with the Holy Ghost." "I have received that only which is given and assigned to me by God." (So Bengel, Calvin, Hengstenberg, and at one time Godet.)

(2) Those who regard it as being a distinct reference to Christ, and as a vindication of Jesus from the complaint of John's own disciples. The high activity and present position of Jesus is declared by John to have been conferred on Christ "from heaven." He would not, could not, have taken it upon himself apart from the Divine order. (So Godet, Meyer, Watkins, Thorns.)

(3) Those who refer it to both "John and Jesus;" i.e. accept it as the general principle, applicable with equal force to them both. Intense man that he was. John felt justified in referring the entire function and mission of both the Christ and his forerunner to the will, predestination, and bestowment of Heaven. (So Wettstein, Lunge, Luthardt, Lucke, Westcott, Geikie, Moulton.) This is surely the most obvious and rational interpretation. Perhaps "heaven" is not exactly identical with "God," but may point to the whole of the providential circumstances, to the Divine resources, to the inheritance of effects from more remote antecedents in the Divine will; but it is difficult to press this distinction in all cases. Receive

Answering to given.

Be given (ᾖ δεδομένον)

Rev., more correctly, have been given.

From heaven

Literally, out of heaven (ἐκ).

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