There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:
I. The first thing to be observed, as we read this discourse just as it lies before us, is the clear deliverance, by implication at least, on the doctrine of the complete depravity of human nature. It was to Nicodemus—with his morality and unblemished life, with his position as a teacher of the only true religion that was in the world at the time, and not to some dark, sin-defiled creature who had trampled on all law—that the Saviour says, "You are all wrong; you must be born again."
II. The next and corresponding truth is the radical character of the religion of Christ. In order to meet this great need, that religion goes to the root of everything within us, and touching and transforming all creates us anew in Christ Jesus.
III. The inexorable character of this requirement. It is a law of the kingdom of Christ, and it stands at the entrance to that kingdom, never to be disannulled: "Ye must be born again." Like the rocks which sometimes guard the entrance to a safe and spacious harbour, these words stand. A ship must enter here, or turn back to the wide ocean, with no haven or home.
IV. Although this law is itself radical and inexorable, there is nothing uniform or unchangeable as to times and modes of its fulfilment. In these there may be, and indeed there is, endless variety. As it is well not to fall short of the teaching of Scripture, it is also well not to go beyond it. In this matter of regeneration or conversion, nothing can be firmer and clearer than the law, nothing wider and more unlimited than the mode.
V. This great change is very blessed. Great happiness will accrue to a man when it is accomplished, and when he is living the new life in Christ. It is, indeed, a most blessed thing that such a change is possible, still more that it is realised in actual fact; that it occurs in cases around us; that God thus comes to dwell with men; that His Spirit touches and transforms human spirits; that men become new creatures in Christ Jesus. These are great and good things. "Ye may be born again." Does not that give a new and more luminous aspect of the case? Why should we look upon the new birth only as a stern necessity? Why not regard it as a glorious privilege? It is by far the most beneficent change that takes place under the sun. It is the seed of all virtue, the starting-point of an endless progress, the first outburst of the living water springing up into everlasting life.
A. Raleigh, From Dawn to the Perfect Day, p. 108.
References: John 3:3.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. x., p. 201; vol. xxx., p. 33; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii., No. 130; G. Moberly, Plain Sermons at Brighstone, p. 1; F. D. Maurice, The Gospel of St. John, p. 85.
John 3:5-6I. By "being born again" is meant exactly the same thing as by "rising again;" or, rather, the same two things are meant by it. In its literal sense it means what is meant by the Resurrection literally; that is, our entrance upon a new state of being, after our present one is over. By being born, we came into this world from a state of nothingness; by being born again, we shall pass into another world from a similar state of nothingness—that is, from death. This is being born again literally; and by thus being born again we enter into the kingdom of God. Now, in one sense certainly we are all in His kingdom already. We cannot go anywhere where He is not over all; we see the whole of Nature around us, the very stars of heaven in their courses moving according to His laws. But here there are some things which do not obey Him, but have chosen to themselves another king; and these things are the evil hearts of men. It will then be the kingdom of God truly and perfectly, when there shall be nothing which does not obey Him—when not the earth, the moon, and the stars shall move more entirely according to His will than the hearts of all His reasonable creatures.
II. Into this kingdom of God, into this new and Divine life, we can by no natural process be born. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit. By His new creation a new nature is wrought for us, incapable of delay, incapable of sin, and so fit for the eternal society of God. It is still by the Spirit and the water and the blood, all agreeing in one, that we are brought nearer and nearer to the redemption of our body, to the real resurrection, the real birth, into the kingdom of God; not by water only—that is by repentance—but by water and blood, by our repentance and our grateful faith in God's love through Christ; and not by these only, but by the constant indwelling of the Spirit of Him who raised up Jesus from the dead; that abiding with us, and ripening in us all His blessed fruits of love and peace and joy, He may, when our spirits are fully quickened, quicken also our mortal bodies; that having heard Christ's call from the death of sin, and having arisen to His spiritual life, we may hear it also from the very grave, and come forth and be born again to a life which shall never die.
T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. vi., p. 124.
References: John 3:5, John 3:6.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. viii., p. 172. John 3:5-8.—Homilist, vol. iv., p. 361. John 3:5, John 3:16, John 3:17.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., p. 225. John 3:6.—Homilist, 4th series, vol. 1., p. 40; T. T. Carter, Sermons, p. 15; G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 185; H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvii., p. 1; Homilist, 3rd series, vol. i., p. 222. John 3:6, John 3:7.—Church of England Pulpit, vol. xix., p. 49. John 3:7.—G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 350; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 224; J. Keble, Sermons from Ascensiontide to Trinity, p. 219; Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 186; Ibid., vol. viii., p. 204; Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 66; Ibid., Sermons, vol. xxv., No. 1,455. John 3:7, John 3:8.—Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiii., p. 347; J. Caird, Sermons, p. 65; G. Dawson, The Authentic Gospel, p. 58.
John 3:8The Fruits of the Spirit.
I. Such words as those of the text must sound as dreams to those analytical philosophers, who allow nothing in man below the sphere of consciousness actual or possible; who have dissected the human mind till they find in it no personal will, no indestructible spiritual self, but a character which is only the net result of innumerable states of consciousness; who hold that man's outward actions, and also his inmost instincts, are all the result either of calculations about profit and loss, pleasure, pain, or of emotions, whether hereditary or acquired. Ignoring the deep and ancient distinction—which no one ever brought out so clearly as St. Paul—between the flesh and the spirit, they hold that man is flesh and can be nothing more; that each person is not really a person, but is the consequence of his brain and nerves, and having thus, by logical analysis, got rid of the spirit of man, their reason and their conscience quite honestly and consistently see no need for, no possibility of, a Spirit of God, to ennoble and enable the human spirit.
II. But St. Paul says, and we say, that, crushed under this animal nature, there is in man a spirit; we say that, below all his consciousness there is a nobler element, a Divine spark, or at least a Divine fuel, which must be kindled into life by the Divine Spirit, the Spirit of God. And we say that, in proportion as that Spirit of God kindles the spirit of man, he begins to act after a fashion for which he can give no logical reason; that by instinct, and without calculation of profit or loss, pleasure or pain, he begins to act on what he calls duty, honour, love, self-sacrifice. And we say, moreover, that those who deny this, and dream of a morality and a civilisation without the Spirit of God, are unconsciously throwing down the ladder by which they themselves have climbed, and sawing off the very bough to which they cling.
C. Kingsley, Westminster Sermons, p. 67.
Let us briefly endeavour to trace the import of this simile in three forms of the action of the Eternal Spirit: His creation of a sacred literature; His guidance of a Divine society; His work upon the individual soul.
I. As we turn ever the pages of the Bible, must we not say, "The wind bloweth where it listeth"? The Bible is like Nature in its immense, its exhaustless, variety. Like Nature, it reflects all the higher moods of the human soul, because it does more—because it brings us face to face with the infinity of the Divine life. In the Bible the wind of heaven pays scant heed to our anticipations or our prejudices. It "bloweth where it listeth." The Spirit is in the genealogies of the Chronicles not less than in the last conversation of the Supper-room, though with an admitted difference of manner and degree.
II. The words of the text have an application in the life of the Church of Christ. We may trace revivals in it all along the line of history. The Spirit living in the Church has by them attested His presence and His will, and has recalled a lukewarm generation, paralysed by indifference and degraded by indulgence, to the spirit and level of Christian faith and love. In such movements there is often what seems at first sight an element of caprice. It is easy, as we survey them, to say something else was needed, that what was done might have been done better and more completely. But we forget whose work it is, though overlaid and thwarted by human passion, that we may be criticising. The Eternal Spirit is passing, and we can only say, He breatheth when He listeth.
III. Especially our Lord's words apply to the Christian character. We know not the purpose of each saintly life in the designs of Providence; we know not much of the depths and heights whence it draws its inspiration; we cannot tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth. We only know that He whose workmanship it is bloweth where He listeth. Not in caprice, or by accident, but because He knows exactly of what material each of His creatures is made, and apportions His distinctions with the unerring decision of perfect love and perfect justice.
H. P. Liddon, Oxford and Cambridge Journal, June 8th, 1876.
I. Spiritual Life a Divine Inspiration. (1) Spiritual life is impossible without this inspiration. (2) That inspiration enters man in mystery.
II. Look at some of the results of realising this truth. (1) It would strengthen spiritual manhood. (2) It imparts nobility to character. (3) It gives power to our Christian hope.
E. L. Hull, Sermons, 2nd series, p. 63.
References: John 3:8.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi., No. 630; Ibid., vol. xxiii., No. 1356; Homilist, 3rd series, vol. iii., p. 260; D. Fraser, Metaphors of the Gospels, p. 267; G. Moberly, Plain Sermons at Brighstone, p. 231; E. Johnson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiv., p. 67; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 82; G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 350; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 180; J. Foster, Ibid., vol. xviii., p. 356; Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 418; Expositor, 1st series, vol. xii., p. 237; J. Keble, Sermons from Septuagesima to Ash Wednesday, p. 333.
John 3:9The Christian Mysteries.
The Feast of Trinity succeeds Pentecost; the light of the Gospel does not remove mysteries in religion. This is our subject. Let us enlarge upon it.
I. Consider such difficulties in religion as press upon us independently of the Scriptures. Now we shall find the Gospel has not removed these; they remain as great as before Christ came. Why does God permit so much evil in His own world? This was a mystery before God gave His revelation. It is as great a mystery now, and doubtless for this reason, because knowledge about it would do us no good; it would merely satisfy curiosity.
II. Nor, again, are the difficulties of Judaism removed by Christianity. The Gospel gives us no advantages, in mere barren knowledge, above the Jew, or above the unenlightened heathen.
III. Nay, we may proceed to say, further than this, that it increases our difficulties. It is, indeed, a remarkable circumstance, that the very revelation that brings us practical and useful knowledge about our souls, in the very act of doing so, may (as it would seem), in consequence of doing so, bring us mysteries. We gain spiritual light at the expense of intellectual perplexity; a blessed exchange doubtless, still at the price of perplexity. As we draw forth many remarkable facts concerning the natural world which do not lie on its surface, so by meditation we detect in revelation this remarkable principle, which is not openly propounded, that religious light is intellectual darkness.
IV. Such being the necessary mysteriousness of Scripture doctrine, how can we best turn it to account in the contest which we are engaged on with our own evil hearts? Difficulties in revelation are expressly given to prove the reality of our faith. They are stumbling-blocks to proud, unhumbled minds, and were intended to be such. Faith is unassuming, modest, thankful, obedient. Those that believe not fall away; the true disciples remain firm, for they feel their eternal interests at stake, and ask the very plain and practical, as well as affectionate, question, "To whom shall we go" if we leave Christ?
J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. i., p. 203.
References: John 3:11.—J. Keble, Sermons from Ascensiontide to Trinity, p. 332. John 3:12.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv., p. 401; R. S. Candlish, The Gospel of Forgiveness, p. 1.
John 3:13Resurrection the Key to the Life of Christ.
Resurrection is the natural, inevitable issue of the life of the Man of Sorrows, the Lord of glory. Unless the universal life is one great tragedy, that life which from the first moment of its conscious activity had looked on, though it would not press on, to Calvary, could not find the term of that conscious activity in the rock-hewn tomb, where loving hands laid the crucified body of their Lord.
I. It was the force supplied by faith in the resurrection and reign of the Man Christ Jesus, the Man who had led a sinless and absolutely self-sacrificing life on earth, and who rose in Divine strength to make the power by which He lived and died the conqueror of sin and selfishness in man—it was just this force which lifted humanity out of the slough wherein it was fast settling, and gave to it a firm, rock-like foundation, on which it could build victoriously the temple of its higher life. It needed superhuman power, through the supernatural fact—the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus—to lay hold on the corrupt and dying world with a grasp strong enough to lift it, and to begin, by underbuilding it with a solid foundation of Divine truth, the work of its salvation.
II. None can read the great biography thoughtfully without feeling that the life which it portrays had the shadow of death on it from the first. And yet—and this is the transcendently wonderful feature—the atmosphere about it, the sentiment of it, was always of life, and never of death. There was no trace of habitual gloom hanging about the daily pathways of the Lord. All breathed the expression of vivid, intense, energetic, blessed, victorious life. Always the abiding thing, the victorious thing, the beautiful Divine thing, in the word and the work of the Man of Sorrows, is life. His life was entirely healthful, robust and hopeful, though Gethsemane and Calvary were clearly at the end of it. The life was never stronger, fuller, deeper in the springs than when He looked full face on death. What could such a life, what could such a death, as His mean but resurrection? Life was bursting through death as the agony deepened, and when, with the words, "It is finished," He gave up the ghost, the only thing that died was death.
J. Baldwin Brown, The Risen Christ the King of Men, p. 77.
References: John 3:13.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. ix., p. 203; Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 85; A. Barry, Cheltenham College Sermons, p. 344; H. Wace, Expositor, 2nd series, vol. ii., p. 196. John 3:14.—R. D. B. Rawnsley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxii., p. 141.
John 3:14-15Consider some of the lessons of Gospel truth which seem to be foreshadowed in the story of the brazen serpent.
I. There was contained in it a significant intimation that Christ would die. I say significant, because to these Israelites it could hardly be a direct and positive intimation. They must connect it with other types and prophecies, intimating that it would be by His own death that the Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head, and then the death of Him who was to be their Saviour would be not unaptly represented by hanging the acknowledged type of Him upon a pole. As used in the conversation with Nicodemus, however, there is no doubt about the point of the reference. But it would not be—or, at least, to him, as a master in Israel, it ought not to be—any mystery that the Messiah Prince should be cut off out of the land of the living.
II. A second Gospel truth conveyed by this history is, that salvation does not come to us through Christ being lifted up merely, but through our looking to Him when He is lifted up. God forces salvation upon no man. It is ready, it is free, it is within the compass of all; but it must be sought. Like some among the Israelites, we would fain have the brazen serpent brought down from the pole, to touch us, and heal and give life to us, against our will. But this would not Moses, this would not God. "Look unto Me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth."
III. "And it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived." How so? Suppose he beheld it carelessly and without faith, and, as it were, in indolent curiosity, just to see what this new thing was,—did he live then? Clearly not. That look must have been a believing look, an obedient look, a look which, casting all carnal reasoning behind, makes its fearless and trusting venture on the word of promise, that "whosoever believeth on Him should not perish." Faith is a command. At the first opening of the eyes we must believe; when the earth is quaking beneath us, and the door of the eternal world is standing ajar, and despair and death are about to claim us for their own, there is nothing for us but to believe.
J. Moore, Penny Pulpit, No. 3,390.
References: John 3:14, John 3:15.—J. Natt, Posthumous Sermons, p. 192; Homilist, 3rd series, vol. ix., p. 45; E. Cooper, Practical Sermons, vol. i., p. 126; Church of England Pulpit, vol. viii., p. 222; J. Foster, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xviii., p. 380; W. Walters, Ibid., vol. xx., p. 237; J. Keble, Sermons for Holy Week, p. 114; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii., No. 153. John 3:14-17.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. vii., p. 294. John 3:14-18.—Ibid., vol. xii., p. 91.
John 3:16I. A difficulty arises in considering this text. If God so loved the world, why did He allow the fall of man. I answer, Never was a kinder act in God's whole government than that fall of man. For, from what did He fall? A garden. To what does he rise? A heaven. But how can a loving Father permit so much pain, and sin, and misery among His creatures? Two keys unlock that mystery. (1) One is Christ. This world of ours was made to be a platform for the manifestation of the Lord Jesus Christ. You will never read rightly the history of this earth till you adopt that as your first principle—this world was made to be a platform to show Christ. To that manifestation of Christ in His redeeming work, pain, and sin, and misery were absolutely essential. (2) The other key is eternity. We do not yet know how that world will explain and rectify this. We do not yet know how the discipline of this world is bringing out the joy of another; and how the rough and noisy quarry of this Lebanon is giving effect to that temple which is now rising in its calmness upon the hill of Zion. When we behold all its balanced action, and its perfect unity, and its grand results, I am quite sure that we shall say of it all, "God is love."
II. God does not give many things. He lends many; and what He lends, He recalls. He lends everything that has not Christ in it; and therefore He recalls everything that has not Christ in it. But Christ, and what has Christ in it, He never recalls. A Christian affection—a Christian union—a Christian peace—He never recalls! Christ fills it. God gave Christ; therefore that affection, that peace, that union is for ever and ever. You will observe that the promise is twofold—one negative and the other positive. (1) The negative we owe, strictly speaking, to the death of Christ. Our punishment having passed on to Christ, it would not be just in God to punish us also, for that would be punishing the same sin twice. (2) The positive boon, our admission into heaven, we owe to the meritorious righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is imputed to us. And when in that righteousness, we have an actual claim, even the same claim that Christ has, of admission into the heavenly kingdom, because we carry Christ's own claim—His righteousness imputed to us.
J. Vaughan, Sermons, 1865.
John 3:16-17The Atonement.
I. As one of the wisest of the heathens said, everything has two handles—one by which it may, and one by which it may not, be taken hold of. The handle by which this blessed truth of the Atonement should be taken hold of is that which Christ Himself pointed out to us. It is the moral—it is the practical—handle of it, not the theological, not the speculative. We need the doctrine, surely, as a comfort, and not as an anathema. We need it as a bond of unity, not as a test of difference. We need it as an incentive to holiness, not as a source of rancour.
II. There is a side of the Atonement which, when we contemplate, we can understand, and not only understand, but adore; for it is revealed to us not only on its transcendent side, but also on its human side—not only in its relations to God, but also in its effects on man. And on this side you will see, if you search your Bibles, that there are mainly four metaphors by which it is shadowed forth. The Atonement of Christ is described (1) as a sin offering; (2) as our reconciliation to God; (3) as a ransom from slavery; (4) as the release from a debt which it was wholly beyond our power to pay. Now here we have no doubt, no mystery, only blessing and peace. Christ is our sin-offering. When the ancient Israelite had brought his sin-offering, and seen the flame consume it on the altar, he believed that in some way, he knew not how, his sin would be forgiven; but for us, Christ, by the Eternal Spirit, offered Himself without spot to God. Christ is our reconciliation, not in type and shadow, but in very truth. He, as a mediator, stands in the place of God to man, and in the place of man to God. Christ is our ransom. Would you be grateful to one who, finding you chained in a dungeon, broke your chains and flung open your prison doors? Here is a redemption which delivers you from the captivity of sin and Satan, the worst of all captivities. Christ paid our heavy debt. If with a hearty repentance and true faith we turn to Him, the debt—the debt of the horribly wasted and desecrated past—the debt of the miserably blighted and wasted present—is cancelled, and we are free.
F. W. Farrar, Penny Pulpit, new series, No. 1,024.
References: John 3:16.—G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 6; Homilist, vol. iv., p. 112; Ibid., new series, vol. ii., p. 526; Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 424; J. Keble, Sermons for Holy Week, p. 400; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxi., No. 1850; R. Glover, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 170. John 3:16-21.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. xii., p. 274; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 271.
John 3:18In this text unbelief in Christ is represented as a positive crime—a crime with which, in point of enormity, no other form of human sinfulness can be compared—a crime which not only fastens upon its subject the guilt, and binds him over to the penalty of all his other sins, but which is itself the fullest and most striking development of enmity against God and opposition to His government which can possibly be presented.
I. Note the new circumstances and position in which the Gospel of Christ places every one of its subjects. We are here upon trial for an eternal world. Pardon is offered to us as a free gift from Him who has magnified the law and made it honourable; and everything now turns upon simple faith in Jesus Christ, upon an accordance with God's plan of forgiveness, a cordial acquiescence in the principles upon which that forgiveness is offered. Now the language addressed to us is not "He that doeth these things shall live by them," but "He that believeth shall be saved."
II. It goes not a little way to aggravate the guilt of the unbeliever, that God has been pleased in His Gospel not only to state the plan through which He forgives sin, but to show also the indispensable necessity of that plan as growing out of His justice as God, and His uprightness as a moral governor. He tells us in language too plain to be misunderstood, that He can save us in no other way than through faith in His Son. The a sacrifice of Jesus Christ was a method of infinite wisdom to pay tribute of justice, while it threw the mantle of mercy over the lost.
III. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, which unbelief rejects, is the highest expression which God could give us of His grace. Unbelief stands by itself, perfectly isolated in the features of enormity which mark it as least of all sins allowing of an apology or admitting of defence. It is not a sin of ignorance, for every man under the light of truth knows it to be wrong. The convictions of his own spirit—clear, numerous, and irrepressible—often testify against him as one who sins against light and knowledge.
E. Mason, A Pastor's Legacy, p. 80.
References: John 3:18.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii., Nos. 361, 362; Ibid., vol. xvi., No. 964.
John 3:19God's Condemnation of Men.
I. The principles of Divine condemnation. If we accept these words in honest simplicity we must believe that it is not for being dark, but for being content to be dark that God condemns man.
II. Pass on now to the rise of sin into conscious deeds. (1) Every act of sin darkens the light of conscience. (2) Every step decreases the power of resistance.
III. Glance at the manifestation of this principle in the coming of Christ. When the Light came, every man, who rejected Him, proved his contentment in sin.
E. L. Hull, Sermons, 1st series, p. 303.
References: John 3:19.—Homilist, new series, vol. iii., p. 348. John 3:19-24.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. xii., pp. 162, 167.
I. That the Jews, to whom our text was originally applied, hated the light, and would not come to it because their deeds were evil. Their national rejection of our Lord was the result of their national depravity. We gather enough from the incidental notices of the inspired historians to assure us that when Christ came upon earth Judæa was overrun with almost universal profligacy. No man of common feeling can read our Lord's denunciations of the Pharisees without a consciousness that a fierce, unblushing depravity must have reigned among these teachers and rulers of the people, ere the lowly and compassionate Jesus could have poured forth such a torrent of reproach. Analyse the matter as nicely as you will, you cannot avoid allowing that it was just because the darkness of the false system favoured and fostered their evil deeds, while the light of the true system poured upon their shame and required their banishment, that with a tenacity which excites our surprise, and a fierceness which moves our indignation, the Jews scorned the Saviour when He stood amongst them and displayed the credentials of a marvellous and manifold miracle.
II. The same explanation may be given of infidelity, open or concealed, among ourselves. Viciousness of practice produces this strange preference of darkness to light. Men will not come to the light; they love darkness lest their deeds should be reproved. Conversion, in place of being desired, is literally and actually dreaded. It would be the most ill-omened message if you told the money-maker in the midst of his accumulations, or the pleasure-hunter in his revelries, or the child of ambition as he toils up the steep of preferment, that a day would soon dawn, bringing with it such a change in his feelings and character that wealth would be looked upon as dross, and voluptuousness spurned as an enemy, and distinctions fled from as dangerous and destructive, while he would count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ his Lord. Infidelity is a thing of man's own choice, and the choice results from men's own conduct. And thus the decision of our text, harsh as it may sound, and bigoted and illiberal, is, in every case, substantiated. The Jew and Gentile, the Deist, who openly denounces revelation as a forgery, and the worldling who gives it the homage of formal respect and then the contempt of a God-denying life—to all and each of these may the text be unreservedly applied: "Every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved."
H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 2,585.
Reference: John 3:20, John 3:21.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 497.
John 3:21I. Let us endeavour to arrive at some distinct meaning of that remarkable expression—doing truth. (1) The first thing in it is to be really in earnest. Until a man is thoroughly in earnest about his soul God will have nothing to do with him. But as soon as a man is really in earnest, the work is almost half done; at all events, the result is safe. (2) A man who is doing truth has begun to draw to Christ. He makes much of Christ. He begins to feel the power and beauty of Christ. He is learning to depend upon Christ; to find Christ in everything. (3) To do truth is to be very practical in religion. It is not only to hold Christ; but to carry out Christ into daily life. It is true that actions are the results of feelings; but every one who would have lightened feelings must do actions. Whoever will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine.
II. Of this character God says he is coming to the light. For there are assimilations in moral truth, as there are in nature, and wherever there is an assimilation, there is an attraction. This man has some light, and therefore he is under the influence of light! Light draws him. There is a principle in him which must be always running up to the Fountain from which this principle sprang. This man who comes to the light is daily growing in the beautiful grace of transparency of character. The nearer he gets to the light, the more transparent he is. His whole being can now bear examination. He loves truth; he courts truth; he is truth. There is reality in that man. You may weigh his words; you may scrutinise his actions: for he is learning to walk as a child of light. Up and up towards the very Fountain of light he is daily travelling. He is not light, but he is coming to the light. In greater nearness to Jesus every day; in more constant communion with Him; with more of His presence; in more of His image; he is striving to live to Him. Christ is a centre around which he moves continually, in a closer and a closer circle, coming to the light! He to Christ; Christ to him. The affinity grows stronger and stronger.
J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 2nd series, p. 251.
References: John 3:23-36.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. ix., p. 184 John 3:24.—Ibid., vol. xi., p. 235. John 3:29, John 3:30.—J. Stoughton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 395.
John 3:30Look at these words—
I. As the language of true nobility of character. Is it not refreshing to come across a really great man, a man who has too much of Christ within him ever to be ignoble? John's language here is not the language of sullen acquiescence. It does not need any grace to talk in that strain. It is not—"Well, He must increase, and I must decrease; and I cannot help it." No, it is the language of joy, "This my joy, therefore, is fulfilled." It is the lack of this spirit which gives rise to so many splits in our churches. It is the want of this great-heartedness which takes away the power for testimony, and causes that wretched smallness of soul which cannot rejoice in the success, or the greater success, of another.
II. As the language of prophetic utterance, "He must increase—on and on and ever increasing—and I must decrease." John was the last of the prophets who foretold the coming of the kingdom of Christ. He was the forerunner, the herald of Christ, and now that the Messiah had come forth to found His kingdom, John's mission was fulfilled. This is his last sermon. He cried, "Behold the Lamb of God!"
III. As the language of a believer's heart. We commence life with all of self and none of Christ. It is the "I" in our aims, in our thoughts, in our conversation, in our actions, it is self we worship, self we admire, self we seek, and self we serve. But in the day of conversion Jesus Christ comes into the heart, and then there is Christ and "I" within the same breast. There is a new nature, and there is an old. It is the house of David waxing stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul waxes weaker and weaker. If I am being sanctified, Christ will occupy more and more of my thinking power. Thoughts concerning Christ and His kingdom will flow with ever-increasing volume through the channel of my mind. As Christ increases self must decrease.
A. G. Brown, Penny Pulpit, new series, No. 1,065.
This text contains a great principle—the principle on which God governs His children, always and everywhere. God's manifest purpose is, to keep His children humble, to make our Saviour everything and ourselves nothing. We are empty; in Him dwells all fulness. We are weak, in Him is Almighty strength. We can bring to Him only our guilt, our cares, our sorrows, our poor unworthy selves. In Him is everything—grace and peace and hope and life, wisdom and sanctification and complete redemption. And it is a great and happy Christian attainment, if we can with our whole heart assent to this. We have in these words—
I. The way to be saved. You know how natural it is for us all to think that we can do something or suffer something that may recommend us to God; that may make some amends for our sin against Him. We must decrease from that; that would be saving ourselves. We must learn and feel in our heart, that we can do nothing to make amends to the law we have broken; that we must be forgiven, if forgiven at all, of God's free grace, and for our Redeemer's sake. We must decrease, as regards our merit before God, and as regards our estimate of our merit and ourselves before God to nothing; and our Saviour must increase till He is felt to be all in all.
II. The rule of a holy and happy life. Here is the secret of great usefulness. Here is the thing that will keep us kindly, unenvious, and unsoured in spirit; to utterly cast our self-seeking, self-assertion, self-conceit, to quite forget ourselves and our own importance and advancement, and with a single heart to think of our God and Saviour, and of the advancement of His glory in the saving and comforting of souls. Just in proportion to the degree in which you cease to think of self, and with a single eye make your Master's glory your great end, will be the good you will do. There is nothing that goes home to the hearts of people you try to influence for good, like the conviction that you are not thinking of yourself at all; but that you are thinking of them, and of Christ's glory in their advantage and blessing here and hereafter. It is not the fussy person trying to do good, but with much self-consciousness and self-conceit mingling with all his doings—it is not that man who will do most good. It is rather the humbler servant whose whole life says, "Now I am not working for effect; I don't care what you think of me; I am aiming at your good and Christ's glory only." For that humble servant, without perhaps ever thinking of it, has caught the sublime spirit of one concerning whom his Saviour said that a greater was never born of woman; and whose words about his Saviour were these, spoken ungrudgingly and with all his heart: "He must increase; but I must decrease."
A. K. H. B., Graver Thoughts of a Country Parson, 2nd series, p. 36.
Let us try to enter into the spirit of that deep and affectionate loyalty to our Lord, which is everywhere to be seen in the Holy Baptist's character. I mean his not thinking of himself, but of his Master; giving up everything to His glory; rejoicing, as he went on, to find that Jesus Christ every day was showing Himself more and more glorious above him, and throwing him quite into the shade. His "burning and shining light" was to be put out and disappear, like a star, when the sun arises. And he is glad and thankful to have it so; like Jonathan, who truly rejoiced in seeing David by degrees mounting up to the kingdom which, according to earthly ways of thinking, Jonathan might have looked for himself.
I. This loyal and self-devoted feeling St. John here expresses in words; but his whole life and conduct before had expressed it, to a considerate mind, quite as clearly. All his doctrine ran upon this; that neither his preaching nor his baptism was anything at all in itself, but only to prepare the way for the perfect Gospel, the spiritual Baptism, which Jesus Christ should set up afterwards. It may seem suitable to this dutiful temper of mind, that St. John, when the people asked him what they should do, referred them always to the plainest and simplest duties, the very thing, as it were, which came next in each man's way. In every instance the advice which he gives was as plain and simple as could be, not at all leading them to think of him, nor of any particular wisdom or goodness that was in him, but only to glorify God in their stations by sincere obedience. So again, the Baptist never shrank from showing people the severe side of the truth. "The wrath to come," "the unquenchable fire," "the axe laid to the root of the tree,"—these are the things of which he continually kept putting people in mind; but these are not the subjects on which he would have delighted to dwell, had he desired to please and attract his hearers, or to obtain personal influence and authority with them. But in this respect, as in all others, the Forerunner of Christ was like His Apostles after Him: he preached not himself, but Christ Jesus the Lord.
II. Finally, in the last of his trials, his imprisonment through the malice of Herodias, we find him still of the same mind, still careful to turn all, as well as he could, to the preparing of Christ's way; still anxious to put himself down and exalt his Master and Saviour. For this purpose, having heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples with the question: "Art thou He that should come, or do we look for another?" He could not be ignorant who Jesus was, after what he had seen at His Baptism; but no doubt his intention was, to show his disciples the truth concerning Him. Thus he died, as he had lived, pointing out Jesus to men. Now there is one point in particular which we may well learn this day, from considering John the Baptist's character; namely, that in such measure as we are duly preparing to meet Christ when He comes to be our Judge, in the same measure we shall be still practising to humble ourselves more and more—to think less of what we do or have done, and more of Him and His unspeakable mercies. We shall no longer anxiously and grudgingly count the minutes, the hours which we spend on serving Christ in His Church, but every little time we can win for that holy employment, away from the world, we shall reckon it clear gain. The more we can give, the more yet shall we contrive to spare; every step in any kind of holiness will be to us like a step upwards on a high mountain, revealing to our sight fresh blessings and fresh duties beyond what we had ever dreamed of, until the last and most blessed step of all shall land us in the Paradise of God.
Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. vi., p. 129.
References: John 3:30.—F. D. Maurice, The Gospel of St. John, p. 101; J. A. Hessey, Church of England Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 8; H. M. Butler, Harrow Sermons, p. 202; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 301; J. Keble, Sermons for Saints' Days, p. 268; J. E. Vaux, Sermon Notes, 4th series, p. 84; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvii., No. 102. John 3:31-36.—Homilist, 3rd series, vol. x., p. 143. John 3—Homiletic Magazine, vol. xii., p. 109; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 239.
The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?
Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.
If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?
And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
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.
For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.
After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized.
And John also was baptizing in AEnon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized.
For John was not yet cast into prison.
Then there arose a question between some of John's disciples and the Jews about purifying.
And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him.
John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.
Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him.
He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.
He must increase, but I must decrease.
He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all.
And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony.
He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true.
For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.
The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand.
He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.