Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE SIMPLE FACT IS STATED. We are left to draw our own inferences. Evidently we are meant to think the worse of Nicodemus for coming by night, and we may draw inferences without making Nicodemus out to be an exceptionally bad character. Just the average man of the world, with a position made for him, having much to lose by taking up boldly with new ways, and therefore feeling he could not be too cautious in his first approach to Jesus. He did not want to be compromised.
II. JESUS DID NOT SEND AWAY THE MAN WHO CAME BY NIGHT. He did not stand upon his dignity. He did not say, "Go away again, and come by daylight." Jesus is the most accessible of beings. It is better to come by day than by night, because such a coming indicates a brave, determined mind, bent on getting at the truth, and so much the better placed for reaching the truth, because it has risen above that fear of man which bringeth a snare. But it is better to come by night than not at all; and it matters a great deal to us to know that Jesus did not send this man away because he came by night. Thus we have illustration how Jesus does not break the bruised reed or quench the smoking flax. If weak ones are to make headway in the path of faith and righteousness, they must not he dealt with hardly in the beginning.
III. JESUS HAS THE SAME MESSAGE WHENEVER WE MAY COME. Whatever hour Nicodemus may choose, it is the same truth he will have to hear, the same process he will have to go through. Come at midnight or come at noonday, the announcement is the same, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
IV. CONTRAST THE COMING OF NICODEMUS WITH HIS DEPARTURE. Not that we are told how he departed. He may have succeeded in his immediate desire. His visit to Jesus may have remained unknown to everybody but Jesus and himself, he came in the darkness of physical night, and in the darkness of physical night he probably went away. But nevertheless, uncomfortable consequences must have come to him in ways he did not at all expect, he came in the gross darkness of spiritual ignorance, but he can hardly have gone away without some dim rays of spiritual light upon his path. There must. at all events, have been a disturbing sense of a larger world than he had. been heretofore accustomed to. He had been brought face to face with more searching views of life. You may, perhaps, choose what you will begin and how, but how you will end is beyond your choice. The one thing that everybody now knows about Nicodemus is that he is the man who came to Jesus by night. What a commentary on the vain wisdom and expectations of men! The very means Nicodemus takes to ensure secrecy end in the widest publicity. And yet it is a publicity that does not hurt Nicodemus, and it is for the world's good. It is long, long ago since it could matter in the least to Nicodemus who knew the way of his coming to Jesus. - Y.
I. THE VAUNTED KNOWLEDGE OF NICODEMUS. Nicodemus wants to come to Jesus with safety to his own position, and he gets over the difficulty, as he thinks, by coming at night. But such a proceeding may produce greater difficulties than it removes. Now he has come, what shall he say? His aim is to sound Jesus a little, and find out if it will be politic to encourage him. We may be tolerably sure that, with such aims, Jesus would not make his task the easier. Imagine Nicodemus, after going through the usual salutations and beginnings of conversation, making his way to the business that has brought him. How, then, ought he to have begun? Surely something after this fashion: "You will think it a strange thing for me to come under cover of the dark, but you must know that I am a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews, and so I cannot come just at any hour I please. Coming in the daylight, my coming would get known, and all the good things I have worked so hard to gain would speedily vanish. So, before I risk them, I want to know a little more about you." But instead of beginning with simple truth, he says the very thing he ought not to have said - the very thing which was in plain contradiction to the way of his coming, he says he knows Jesus has come from God, and these Pharisees, one and all of them, were professed servants of God, ostentatious even in their service. If, then, Nicodemus had really believed Jesus to have come from God, would he have sought conference with him in this ignominious fashion? Nicodemus feared men more than he feared God. He really knows nothing at all about God. As yet he is a mere player with words instead of an earnest dealer in deep realities. Talking about words and names must not be confounded with real searching into things. Nicodemus should have none to Jesus, saying, "Thou doer of marvels, whence hast thou come? what hast thou brought? what dost thou ask for?"
II. THE WAY TO TRUE KNOWLEDGE. Nicodemus must have his mind cleared of cant and illusion and empty tradition. Jesus does this at once by one of those fundamental declarations going down to the heart of human need. "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Thus an indication is given as to the sort of people who profit by the teaching of Jesus. Nicodemus is right in calling Jesus a Teacher; but, then, he can only teach certain people. Jesus, who came to establish a spiritual kingdom of God, can as yet do nothing for Nicodemus, whose notions of a kingdom are of something having a power and splendour to be perceived by the bodily eye. Both Jesus and Nicodemus can talk about the kingdom of God, but they mean very different things. Jesus knows well what the Pharisee has come for. He suspects that Jesus, unlikely as he looks, may be a great one in the expected kingdom, and if so Nicodemus may get the first chance of a good position. So the heart of the man must be altogether altered before he can listen sympathetically to the teaching of Jesus. - Y.
King, and represented his Church as a kingdom. Not that this aspect is exclusive of others. But our Lord stated the plain truth, and his statements should be taken as a rebuke to all merely sentimental and selfish views of religion.
I. THE SPIRITUAL KINGDOM IS RULED BY A DIVINE SOVEREIGN. Absolute monarchy is among men distrusted on account of the imperfections and weaknesses of human nature. The autocrat is usually a tyrant. But Christ, being the Son of God, and the incarnation of Divine wisdom, justice, and clemency, is fitted to rule; and his sway is acknowledged as deserving of implicit submission on the part of all mankind.
II. THE SPIRITUAL KINGDOM IS COMPOSED OF CONSECRATED HUMAN NATURES. The empire of the Creator over the inanimate and the brute creation is perfect, The Lord Jesus came to reassert and re-establish the Divine dominion over intelligent and spiritual beings. That these are in a sense subject to Divine authority is not disputed. But Christ desires a voluntary and cheerful obedience. Unwilling subjects afford him no satisfaction. To rule over the bodily and outward life of men is an object of human ambition. But the kingdoms of this world, and their glory, have no charm for Christ. It is in human hearts that he desires and loves to reign. He has undoubtedly an external empire; but this he possesses in virtue of his spiritual sway.
III. THE SPIRITUAL KINGDOM IS GOVERNED BY RIGHTEOUS LAWS. The ordinances of earthly governments aim at justice, and in varying degrees they secure their aim. Yet they partake of human imperfection. But of the laws of Christ, and of his apostles, who spoke with his authority, we may say that they are the expressions of the Eternal Mind. It is no grievance to obey them. They realize our moral ideals, i.e. in their intention and requirements. Their observance tends to the highest human good and well being. Their practical and universal prevalence would make earth heaven.
IV. THE SPIRITUAL KINGDOM IS ENTERED BY COMPLIANCE WITH CONDITIONS PERSONAL AND SPIRITUAL. Men are born subjects of the Queen of England; but they must be born anew of water and of the Spirit, in order that they may become subjects of the Lord Christ. Both the Catholic and the Puritan ideas of regeneration convey this truth. The one lays more stress upon the baptism, which symbolizes a heavenly influence; the other upon the individual experience, which emphasizes the spiritual personality. Both alike agree with the scriptural assertion that Christianity, in its Divine completeness, involves men's participation in newness of convictions, newness of feeling, newness of principle, newness of life. The new birth begins the new life. The birth, no doubt, directs our thoughts to a Divine agency; the new life leads us to think of the human cooperation. And the kingdom of the just and holy Christ is characterized both by the Divine provision and by the human acceptance, both by the Divine authority and the human submission.
V. THE SPIRITUAL KINGDOM IS DISTINGUISHED BY MANY AND VALUABLE PRIVILEGES. The citizenship of a great nation, of a powerful city, is prized among men for the sake of its accruing honours and advantages. Civis Romanus sum was no empty boast. Far greater are the immunities and honours and joys connected with citizenship in the kingdom of Christ. The safety which is experienced beneath Divine protection, the happiness which flows from Divine favour, the spiritual profit which accompanies submission to Divine requirements, - these are some of the privileges accorded to such as are within, unknown to such as are without, the heavenly kingdom of the Son of God.
VI. THE SPIRITUAL KINGDOM HAS BEFORE IT A DESTINY BRIGHT AND GLORIOUS. All earthly kingdoms bear within them the seeds of corruption and decay. From these the spiritual state is free. It is subject to no "decline and fall." Because Divine, it is incorruptible; and because incorruptible, imperishable - "an everlasting kingdom, a dominion enduring unto all generations." - T.
I. OBSERVE THE TRUE TEACHER. This verse is in answer to a question. The first word of Jesus to Nicodemus is a word that brings a question. The true teacher seeks to provoke activity of mind and curiosity in the learner. The question is certainly a most absurd one, but Nicodemus had no time to prepare a sensible one. It is easy for us to be wise over the introductory declaration of Jesus, because we look at it with plenty of illustrations and explanations shining upon it. But Nicodemus, in all his previous thinking, had nothing to make him expect Jesus would thus speak; and so it is little wonder to find him staggered, confused, utterly bewildered, to hear Jesus speaking thus calmly of such a wondrous experience. The question, however absurd, leads on to a piece of most practical information.
II. THE FURTHER EXPLANATION OF JESUS. We are not likely to suppose that being born again means to live natural life over again. Few would care for that, travelling over the old road, meeting the old difficulties, fighting the old battles. Jesus explains that to be born again is to be born of water and of the Spirit. Being born of water means, of course, passing through the experience of repentance. The true disciple of John the Baptist was born of water. He repented, changed from his old view of life, manifested that changed view by changed habits and practices, and, for sign of all this, was baptized with water. Nicodemus evidently had this experience still to go through. He had not been a disciple of John the Baptist. He had yet to see what a poor shallow affair an outward kingdom is. But being born of water takes us only a small way into the regeneration. Yon must follow up discipleship of John with discipleship of Jesus. You may cease to care for the old, and yet not have found your way to possession of the new. The only new creature worth calling such is the new creature in Christ Jesus. You must feel on your heart the breath of him who has eternal life. By repentance, old things pass away; by spiritual birth, all things become new. The spiritual man looks on a virtually new world. The precious becomes worthless, and the worthless precious; the once neglected is sought for, and the once sought for is neglected. - Y.
I. THE SUBJECT OF THE NEW BIRTH. In opposition to the prejudices of Nicodemus, who at first could think only of a body as susceptible of birth, our Lord taught that the spirit of man may be born anew, and must be so born in order to the experience of highest blessing.
II. THE NEED OF THE NEW BIRTH. This is to be remarked in the nature of the old and unregenerate life. The soul which is misled by error, which is abandoned to sin, which is strange to the favour of God, needs to be born anew. Carnal views of religion, selfish principles of life, need to be eradicated from the soul. But evil is so inwrought into man's constitution and habits that he needs to be spiritually reconstructed in order that he may see as God sees, feel as God. feels, act as God wills.
III. THE POWER OF THE NEW BIRTH. The change to be effected is so radical and so complete that no human means can avail to bring it about. Hence, as our Lord teaches, the necessity for the operations of the Spirit of God - mighty, though mysterious, as the rush of the wind when it bends the trees of the forest and roars in its fierceness, though man can neither see nor comprehend it. This we know: that if the spirit of man is the scene of transforming operations, if spiritual results are to be wrought, the Spirit of God alone can account for such a process.
IV. THE PROOF OF THE NEW BIRTH. In a word, this is the new life. The interest of birth lies in the life to which it is the introduction. So is it in the spiritual realm. The higher, the spiritual life, is a contrast to the old; it is marked by all that is divinely excellent and beautiful, and it is immortal, being perfected only in the presence and the fellowship of God himself. - T.
I. THE ORIGIN. Man is powerless to cause the wind to blow from one quarter or from another, for the wind is one of the great forces of nature, i.e. of the operation of God, the Maker and Lord of all. In like manner, the Spirit of truth and holiness is the Spirit of God. No man can claim credit for his influences; they belong to the superhuman system which is independent of human wisdom or skill. If the Church of Christ is the creation of the Spirit (ubi Spiritus, ibi Ecclesia), it is not an institution of human origin and device, but an organism into which God himself has breathed the breath of life.
II. THE CHARACTERISTICS.
1. The wind is invisible, and the same is the case with the Spirit of God, who is perceived by no one of the senses. Invisibility is no proof of the unreality of the breeze or the gale. The influence of the Spirit of God is upon human souls, and cannot be traced by the action of the senses; but that influence is as real as is that of any force, whether material or psychical.
2. The Spirit of God resembles the wind in the secret and inscrutable character of his operations. That there are meteorological laws is not questioned; but the forces that account for the wind are so many and so complicated, that they are even now only very partially understood. At all events, the variations of the atmosphere were altogether unknown to Nicodemus, and the argument was obviously effective for him. In like manner, the operations of God's Spirit are mysterious; they take place in the recesses of the soul; their method is often incomprehensible by us. Yet there is nothing arbitrary or capricious in these operations; they are all the manifestations of Divine wisdom and goodness. The workings of the Holy Ghost are present where we, perhaps, should little have expected them. Not only can we not prescribe to God how he should work; we cannot always tell how he has worked. He evidently has many direct channels by which his Spirit approaches the souls of men.
III. THE RESULTS. If we cannot see the wind or trace its modes of action, we are at no loss to understand and appreciate its effects. We hear its sound, we feel its force, we perceive its presence by its works. The Spirit makes his efficacy apparent by his fruits.
1. How powerful is the Spirit of God! The wind, by its steady blowing, turns the sails of the mill, propels the ship across the ocean; by its vehemence, in the form of a hurricane or a whirlwind, destroys great works, uproots trees, unroofs houses. But what is this, as evidence of power, compared with the effects wrought by the Holy Spirit in human hearts - in human society? Here we see the mightiest works of the Supreme.
2. How various are the tokens of the Spirit's working! The wind may be Boreas or Zephyr; may sink into a sigh or wax into a roar; may pile the clouds in masses, or drive the mists like sheep before it, or fling the hail abroad. And the Spirit of God is the Spirit of truth, of conviction, of holiness, of consolation. The same Spirit distributes varied gifts to men "severally as he will." None can limit, none can even trace out, the diversity of spiritual operations.
3. How beneficent is the Spirit of God in his working! The wind does harm; yet its action, on the whole, is advantageous. But the Holy Ghost not only works good; he works nothing but good. He who is "born of the Spirit" is born to a new, a holy, a Divine life. A spiritual dispensation is the occasion of hope to this humanity, imparts to it a prospect which otherwise the most sanguine would not venture to dream of. A ransomed humanity thus becomes a renewed humanity, and renewal is the pledge of glorification. From the four winds the breath comes and breathes upon the slain; and the dead. live, and "stand upon their feet, an exceeding great army." - T.
I. THE SERPENT BITE IS THE EMBLEM OF SIN. For the moral evil is, like the venom of the viper,
(1) diffused in action;
(2) rapid in progress;
(3) painful to experience;
(4) dangerous and deadly in result.
II. THE DEATHS IN THE CAMP OF ISRAEL ARE THE EMBLEMS OF THE SPIRITUAL CONSEQUENCES OF SIN. Scripture consistently represents death, i.e. moral, spiritual death, as the natural and appointed result of subjection to sin. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die;" "The wages of sin is death." If spiritual life is the vigorous exercise, in the way appointed by heavenly wisdom, of the faculties of our intelligent and voluntary nature, spiritual death consists in the deprivation of power, in the cessation or suspension of such activities as are acceptable to God.
III. THE BRAZEN SERPENT IS AN EMBLEM OF THE DIVINE REDEMPTIVE REMEDY.
1. Like the figure placed upon the banner staff, the provision for salvation from spiritual death is due to Divine mercy. Christ is the Gift of God; the power of spiritual healing is Divine power; the ransom paid is appointed and accepted by God.
2. In both there is observable a remarkable connection between the disease and the cure. It was not without significance that the remedy provided in the wilderness bore a resemblance to the disease. Christ too was made in the likeness of sinful flesh, and in a human body endured for us that death which is the penalty of sin.
IV. THE ELEVATION OF THE BRAZEN SERPENT UPON THE POLE WAS AN EMBLEM OF OUR SAVIOUR'S CRUCIFIXION AND EXALTATION. It is observable how early in his ministry Jesus referred to his "lifting up." That he by this language indicated his crucifixion does not admit of question. "When ye have lifted up the Son of man;" "I, if I be lifted up from the earth;" - are instances which show how distinctly Jesus foresaw and foretold his death, and even the manner of it. The consistency is manifest between this elevation of sacrificial death and the subsequent elevation to the throne of eternal glory.
V. THE LOOKING AT THE LIFTED FIGURE OF THE SERPENT IS AN EMBLEM OF FAITH IN CHRIST. There was nothing in the act of gazing which itself contributed to the recovery of those who were bitten. Nor is there anything meritorious in the attitude of the soul that exercises faith in the Saviour. But it is an act which brings the soul into closest relation with the all-gracious Redeemer. Faith is an attitude, an inspiration of the soul, which instrumentally secures salvation. The Divine ordinance is this: "Look and live!"
VI. THE PUBLICATION OF THE NEWS CONCERNING THE SERPENT OF BRASS IS EMBLEMATICAL OF THE PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL. It was a ministry of benevolence and of blessing which was discharged by those who went through the camp of Israel, heralding deliverance and life. And there are no tidings so honourable to deliver, and so profitable to receive, as the glad tidings of a great Saviour and a great salvation, which it is the office of the Christian preacher to publish to those who are afar off and to those who are near. - T.
I. AN HONOURED NAME IS MENTIONED. Nicodomus and his sect professed to glorify Moses. Jesus did glorify him ia reality. Perhaps Nicodemus is beginning to think that, after all, there is nothing in Jesus likely to he of much service, no correspondence between outward appearance and desired results. And now he is made to understand that Jesus is well acquainted with all the proceedings of Moses, and can use them just when they are wanted. Moses is not only giver of laws, prescriber of ceremonies, fountain of honoured traditions; he is also a saviour, and a saviour by methods that to the natural eye look to have no salvation in them.
II. A PRESSING NEED IS SUGGESTED. There must be deliverance from destruction. Something had to be done for the bitten, dying children of Israel, and God gave Moses instructions according to his own wisdom. Other means might have been employed, but those means actually were employed which served the largest ends. Why Moses had to raise the brazen serpent is not seen till Jesus is lifted on the cross. Then we understand how God has his eye on perishing individuals still. Nicodemus is not yet bitten of a guilty conscience. His aims are earthly and limited. He wants something for his own temporal advantage - something ministering to his pride as a Jew. And now Jesus hints to Nicodemus how he must discover his spiritual danger, if he is to get the full blessing from Jesus. Jesus is a Saviour as well as a Teacher. He would have men learn first their need of salvation, and then, being saved, they will go on to learn from him how best to use the life that has been saved.
III. THE DEMAND FOR SIMPLE FAITH. Such a demand must not be left out of such a discourse. There are many things Jesus cannot yet explain to Nicodemus. Even were Nicodemus a spiritual man, he would have to wait while Jesus goes on through all the transactions of his great work. How mysterious the announcement of the lifting up of Jesus would seem when it was first made! But Jesus, we may be sure, made that announcement with a view to all in future ages who should read of his lifting up on the cross. Nicodemus might not come again, so Jesus sends him away with as much of essential truth as possible. Let us, too, be deeply thankful fur the parallel Jesus draws between the brazen serpent and himself. It makes us see the power residing in simple faith when that faith goes out to an object of God's own appointment. - Y.
I. THE MOTIVE WHICH PROMPTED THE GIFT. This was love, an emotion which some think too human to attribute to the Ruler of the universe. But we are justified in believing that we ourselves are susceptible of love only because God has fashioned us in his own likeness. Love is distinguishable from goodness as having more of the character of personal interest. And the relations between God and man being considered, love here must be understood as involving pity and also sacrifice. And whereas human love is often intense in proportion to its narrowness and concentration, Divine love is all-embracing - includes all mankind. This, indeed, follows from the origination of this love in the Divine mind. It was nothing in mankind except their need and sin and helplessness which called forth the benevolence of the heart of the heavenly Father.
II. THE PRECIOUSNESS OF THE GIFT. Great love found its expression in a great gift, worthy of the generous and munificent Benefactor of mankind. The use of the appellation, "only begotten Son," seems to point to the estimation in which Christ was held by the Father, in whose view none was to be compared with Christ. It is not easy for us to realize the value set upon Christ by the Father; but we can look at this gift from our own side, and can form some judgment of the worth of the Lord Jesus to our humanity. Because he was the Son of man the Friend of sinners, and because he was this in his humiliation, and is this in his glory, therefore he is dear and precious to the hearts of those whose nature he deigned to assume, whose lot he deigned to share. He who withholds no good thing from men, withheld not, spared not his own Son, but gave him up for us all.
III. THE INTENTION AND PURPOSE WITH WHICH THE GIFT WAS BESTOWED. As here presented, this was twofold.
1. The aim was one of deliverance, to secure men from impending condemnation and perdition.
2. It was also an aim of highest beneficence, we must understand, not the mere continuance of existence, but the perpetuity of the highest well-being - that life which truly deserves the name, and which, being Divine, is also imperishable.
IV. THE CONDITION UPON WHICH THIS GIFT MAY BE ENJOYED. A moral, spiritual gift cannot be bestowed, as can a material boon, independently of the character and religious position of the beneficiary. The greatest gift of God is conferred, not upon the deserving or open the fortunate, but upon the believing. Concerning this condition of faith, it should be remarked that it is
(1) indispensable upon God's side, for he is honoured by the grateful acceptance of his free and precious gift. And it is further
(2) indispensable upon man's side, for the gift must be accepted and appropriated by those for whom it is intended. He who rejects Christ cannot benefit by Christ; it is faith that links the soul to the Savior.
APPLICATION. The word "whosoever" is here employed in order to point out that, in the Divine compassion there is no limitation, in the Divine offer there is no restriction. There is nothing in the purposes of God, nothing in the condition prescribed by Divine wisdom, which can exclude the meanest or the vilest, if only penitent and believing, from the enjoyment of this incomparable gift. - T.
I. THE OBJECT OF HIS LOVE. "The world" - the fallen human family.
1. There was nothing in the world to attract and deserve his love. For he loved the world, not as he made it, but as it made itself by sin. God loves all holy beings. This is natural, as natural as it is for a virtuous father to love a dutiful son. But God loved the world in its disobedience and sin. It was the magnitude and gravitation of his love, and not the attraction of the world.
2. There was much in the world to repel his love. Not only it was not attractive, but it was most repelling. Its fall was deliberate and wilful, and it was indifferent, and even rebellious in its fallen state. The magnitude of any force is measured by the opposing forces it conquers. In this light, how great must be the love of God to the world! He conquered the mightiest oppositions - the sin, the disobedience, the bitterest enmity, and the cruelest antagonism of the world. He loved the world in spite of itself.
3. The world deserved punishment - perdition. This punishment was hanging over it. Justice called and demanded vengeance, but mercy triumphed over judgment, took justice into its confidence, made a treaty with it, and became responsible for all its heavy claims. What must be the greatness of the love that did this!
4. He loved the whole world. Not a part of it, or a few of its inhabitants, but all alike, and altogether. He might have made a selection, but the selection of Divine love was the whole world. This reveals it as a boundless and fathomless ocean, inexhaustible in its riches, and infinite in its kind impulses. The arms of his love are so everlasting that they took hold of the fallen world and fondled it in their safe and warm embrace.
II. THE GIFT OF HIS LOVE. Love is measured by the gifts it presents and the sacrifice it makes. In this light, how great is God's love to the world!
1. He gave his Son. Think of him as a mere Son - good, dutiful, and holy. How great is the gift! To give a holy being, such as an angel, would be a great gift and a manifestation of great love; but he gave his Son.
2. He gave his only begotten Son. To give one son out of many would be a manifestation of great love; but he gave his only Son, and his only begotten Son - his equal - who was one with him in essence, mind, and heart; the Son of his love, who was ever with him and ever his delight. Such a gift he never gave before, and can never give again. The gift is royal and matchless, the sacrifice is Divine and unique - an index of love too high, too broad, too deep, too Divine for mortals to comprehend.
3. He gave his only begotten Son as a sacrifice. To send his Son would be a manifestation of great love, but to give him is a manifestation of a far greater; for he sent his Son to the world as a Messenger of peace, but he gave him as a Sacrifice for the world's sin. Divine love in the Incarnation appears like a brilliant star, like that star the "wise men" saw in the east; but in the Crucifixion, with all its indignities and agonies, it appears like a sun all ablaze, and filling the universe with its matchless radiance. On Calvary God's love is on fire, and the flames envelop the world, and even the throne of glory; so that in view of this, how natural is the exclamation of the evangelist elsewhere. "God is love"! When we gaze upon it in sacrifice, we are completely dazzled, so that we can see nothing but love Divine and infinite.
III. THE PURPOSE OF HIS LOVE. This is twofold.
1. To save the human race from the greatest calamity. "Should not perish."
(1) Their perdition was inevitable without God's interference. If the Law were left to take its course, its transgressors would be summarily punished; they were already in the hands of justice, and the verdict was "perdition."
(2) God was under no obligation to interfere. He fully performed his part of the covenant, and surrounded man with all the possibilities and advantages of an obedient and consequently a happy life; but man wilfully neglected his own part, and transgressed the Law of his Creator, and brought upon himself his awful but righteous doom; and there was no stipulation as to mercy, so there was no obligation on the part of God to intercede.
(3) God was under no necessity to interfere. In the exercise of his matchless love in Christ, he was absolutely free and independent, for the world to him is as the small dust of the balance, and its inhabitants as mere grasshoppers. He would be eternally glorious and happy if the guilty world were left to its horrible fate. Consequently, his love is as pure and unselfish as it is glorious and infinite; for what but the most unselfish and intense love could prompt him to hold this guilty world in his arms, and prevent it from falling over the awful precipice?
2. To bring within the reach of all the greatest good. "But have eternal life."
(1) That man may enjoy the greatest good. "Life." Every life is good in itself and very precious; but this life is the highest and best of all; it is spiritual life - the life of God in the soul, and represents all good and happiness which the soul needs and is capable of enjoying.
(2) That man may enjoy, the greatest good forever. "Eternal life" - endless good and happiness. To save the guilty world from perdition manifests great love; but Divine love shines more brilliantly still, when, at the greatest possible sacrifice, not merely saves the world from the greatest calamity, but brings within its reach the greatest good, "eternal life."
IV. THE CONDITION ON WHICH THE BLESSINGS OF HIS LOVE MAY BE OBTAINED. There are many good human measures, offering great advantages, but containing disadvantageous clauses, which debar most from the benefit. But throughout the great scheme of redemption, God's love shines with steady and ever-increasing brilliancy. Even in the condition on which its blessings are offered, simple faith in Christ - "whosoever believeth in him."
1. This condition is essential. The blessings offered could not be received, appropriated effectively, without faith, which means trustful and hearty reception. "Without faith it is impossible to please God;" and it is quite as impossible without it to save and bless man.
2. This condition is reasonable. Is it not reasonable that those who stand in need of salvation should believe and trust their Saviour? Are not the faith and trust demanded by Divine love continually exercised in the affairs of our daily life, as conditions of temporal well being? Reason is on the side of faith and against unbelief.
3. The condition is easy. Divine love could not fix upon an easier condition. A higher condition doubtless could be demanded; but such is the greatness of Divine love, and the intensity of the Divine will that all should avoid perdition and obtain eternal life, that they are offered on the easiest condition possible - simple faith, simple trust, and a grateful acceptance of the benefit. This condition is in the power of all; and in view of what God has done through Christ, one would think that it is easier far to believe than not.
4. The same condition is for all, and all partake of the benefit on the same condition. "Whosoever believeth," etc. There is no distinction of any kind, no partiality, no limit. He might make a distinction - he had perfect right; but such is the infinitude of his love that he makes none, no distinction, no limit; he leaves this to man himself, but not without every effort of Divine love to direct his conduct and guide his choice.
1. The tale of God's love is most eloquently told by its own deeds. If it be asked how much God loved the world, the simple answer is, "God so loved the world that he gave," etc. The gift and sacrifice of love answer with Divine and ever-increasing eloquence.
2. Man's ruin is entirely of himself; his salvation is entirely of God. The simple progeny of his grace, the pure offspring of his love.
3. It is far easier now for man to enter life than fall into perdition. For between him and perdition there are Divine barriers - God's love, in the agonies of suffering and the eloquence of sacrifice, warning and beseeching him. Between him and life there is nothing but his own unbelief.
4. If anything can bring man to repentance and faith, it is the love of God in the sacrifice of his Son. If this cannot, nothing can.
5. Nothing can show the moral resisting power and perversity of man as much as his going to perdition in spite of God's love in Christ. What power of madness! What a terrible fall - to fall to perdition over the infinite love of God! - B.T.
I. THE WOULD IS A PERISHING WORLD. If those believing in the Son of God will not perish, the conclusion is plain that those who remain unbelieving in Christ will perish. The word might have been, "God so loved the world as to fill it, with all manner of things pleasant to eye and ear and taste, comforts various and numberless for the temporal life of man." But the awful word "perish" is brought in, and so we are forced to think, first of all, not of comforts and blessings, but of perils. Drop the word "perish" out of the text, and the profit of all the rest is gone. The world is a perishing world, and we are perishing in the midst of it. The assumption that man is a perishing being without Christ underlies every page of the Scriptures, and is implied in every doctrine of the gospel. The very fact that there is a gospel is the very proof that the gospel is needed. None but he who made us can have an adequate sense of the ruin of our nature through sin. Only he knows all the glory and perfection of which we are capable without sin; only he can estimate the corresponding shame and corruption when sin has gotten the mastery. God only knows all we can enjoy, all we can suffer.
II. THE FEELING OF OUR DANGER NEEDS TO BE PRODUCED AND INTENSIFIED IN US. It gets hidden from our eyes by present comforts and enjoyment. And God knows how indifferent we are, how we trifle with the danger, and style those who would impress us with it fanatical and impertinent. And so we need God's grace opening our eyes to spiritual danger as well as offering to us spiritual salvation. The feeling of danger will never come of itself. The danger is a spiritual one, and hence only as the Spirit of God takes hold of us shall we feel how real and great the danger is. There will be no fear of our failing to see the danger when once the Holy Spirit gets full control in our life. We are ever to remember that part of his work is pressing home upon us our need of salvation and our debt to a Saviour.
III. THE DANGER SEEN, THE SAVIOUR WILL BE WELCOMED. We cannot took to one another for salvation. The perishing cannot help the perishing. We need a Saviour who does not need to be saved himself. It is a grand thing to point, not to a feeble, uncertain earthly friend, but to a heavenly one. When we feel ourselves to be perishing, we shall rejoice in being able to look to such a Saviour. Faith grows gradually and. strongly when the peril and the Saviour are continually present to our thoughts. Then, with salvation ever more and more present to us as a reality, the sense of God's love to the world will be also more and more an inspiring power in our hearts. - Y.
I. IN ITS NEGATIVE ASPECT. "For God sent not his Son," etc. This implies:
1. That God might have sent him for purposes of judgment.
(1) The world amply deserved this. The Jewish world had abused its great and special privileges, and the heathen world had not lived up to the light it possessed, and had become guilty and abominably wicked. Hypocrisy, infidelity, and vice were rampant.
(2) This would be strictly just. If the Son were sent to condemn and destroy the world, the ends of justice would be strictly answered; for even the Jewish world was disimproving under the preliminary dispensation of mercy, and loudly called for judgment.
(3) The world expected and feared this. The world, being guilty naturally, expected and feared punishment. It was suspicious of any communication from the other side. It feared that it might be a message of vengeance. It was so in Eden, and throughout the old dispensation and at the beginning of the new. Friendly angels were suspected of being the executers of justice, and even the Messiah himself was expected to appear as a Judge.
2. God did not do what he might have justly done. "For God sent not," etc.
(1) He had a sufficient reason for this. The reason doubtless was the gracious purpose of his love.
(2) The world is ignorant and guilty and selfish, so as to be blind to the gracious purposes and the merciful movements of Jehovah. The pure in heart can only see him.
(3) God moves in an infinitely higher groove than man. Therefore man's surmises and. anticipations of the Divine purposes are often false, he is better than we think, and more gracious than we expect. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways," etc.
3. Much of God's goodness to the world consists in not doing what he might justly and easily do.
(1) This is seen in nature. In thousands of instances we see how mighty forces would be destructive if not checked by the laws of nature, which are but the almighty and gracious and ever-present energy of the Divine will.
(2) This is seen in providence, as illustrated in the recorded dealings of God towards his people, as well as in the experience of all who seriously think and reflect in every age. "He has not dealt with us after our sins," etc.
(3) This is especially seen in redemption. "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world," etc. Although the world deserved this, God might have sent his Son for the purpose of judgment, but in his goodness he averted the calamity. He sent him not for this purpose.
II. IN ITS AFFIRMATIVE ASPECT. "But that the world through him might he saved."
1. The gracious purpose of God in Christ is salvation.
(1) This is suggested by the fact of the Incarnation. God might have sent his Son into the world to judge it, to punish it. He had a perfect right to do this, but it is not likely that he would do it. The Incarnation does not seem essential to judge and punish. He could do this without it. The fact suggests that the Divine purpose was not vengeance, but salvation; not judgment, but mercy.
(2) This is proved by the mission of the Son in the world. It was "peace on earth, and good will to men." he appeared not with the sword of vengeance, but with the golden sceptre of mercy; and rather than kill any one physically or morally, he voluntarily submitted to be killed himself, and from death offered life to the world, even to his cruelest foes.
(3) This is proved by the effects of his mission in the world. The effects were not destruction, but reformation; not death, but life; not vengeance, but salvation. His ministry and Divine energy healed multitudes physically and spiritually. He cheered, quickened, and saved them.
2. The purpose of God is the salvation of the world, and the whole world. "That the world should be saved." His purpose is as gracious and universal as his love. It embraces the world. Without any distinction of nationality, race, character, education, or position, the purpose is worthy of God as a Divine Philanthropist.
3. The purpose of God is the salvation of the world through the Son. "That the world through him," etc.
(1) He is the Medium of salvation, the great Agent and Author of eternal salvation. Through him the world was created, is supported, and through him it will be saved. What he has done and is doing has made the salvation of the world possible, and through him already the world is potentially saved.
(2) He is the only Medium of salvation. He is the only Saviour. There is no other, and no other would do. If some one else would suffice, the Son would not be sent. The world could be condemned and destroyed through other means, but could be saved through the Son alone.
(3) He is an all-efficient Medium of salvation. The Divine purpose of salvation, in its self-sacrificing love, its greatness, universality, its difficulties, found in him an efficient Medium. He is equal to the task. He has authority to save: God sent him. He is mighty to save: the Son of God. An almighty Saviour by nature, by birth, by Name, by experience, and by ample proofs and Divine and human testimonials, he intends to save; he was sent fur that purpose, and his purpose and love are one with those of God who sent him.
4. The gracious purpose of God to save the world through the Son makes its salvation very hopeful "For God sent not," etc. In view of this, in spite of the world's sin and terrible unbelief, we see infinite possibilities of its salvation. It is now a glorious possibility. Shall it become a practical tact? This is the Divine purpose. Shall it fail? God has answered, it shall not fail on his part. Let the world answer.
1. What God did to the world was infinitely more difficult than what he might have done. He could easily punish it, but to save it cost him infinite sacrifice.
2. What he did, when contrasted with what he might have done, stands forth as a brilliant illustration of his grace and a monument of his love.
3. What he did will be a greater condemnation of the impenitent world then what he might have done. It has placed the world under obligations and responsibilities which neither time nor eternity can obliterate. The punishment of love will be more severe than the punishment of justice.
4. What he did will bring greater glory to his Name. He will be infinitely more glorious in the anthems of a saved world than he would have been in the wails of a lost one. - B.T.
I. OUR JUDICIAL RELATION TO GOD NECESSARILY INVOLVES ONE OR OTHER OF TWO SENTENCES. Because he has devised and provided the gospel, God does not therefore cease to be a Judge, wise, holy, and just. As such he will pronounce upon all who are subject to his authority a sentence either of
(1) condemnation, which is the due of sin and the desert of sinners; or of
(2) acquittal, which proceeds from Divine grace, and which is the condition of true well being. This being the alternative, it is for us a question of supreme moment - Can we in any way affect this sentence?
II. OUR MORAL RELATION TO GOD DETERMINES OUR JUDICIAL RELATION. In other words, his sentence will be according to the attitude, so to speak, of our hearts. It is open to us:
1. To reject or disbelieve in Christ the Saviour. The "only begotten Son of God" claims our reverence and our faith. But the language of Jesus makes it evident that we may withhold what he claims; and to neglect and disregard is the same thing as to refuse and despise salvation. Such a choice is falling back upon our own deserts; and to appeal to justice is to court condemnation. Or we may:
2. Accept or put faith in Christ. Such a choice is opening the eye of the soul to the light that shines, and welcoming it and walking in it. This is to fall in with the gracious proposals of our heavenly Father, to obey the call to spiritual liberty and life. If it be said that God judges righteously according to the character of those who stand at his tribunal, this is admitted; but it should be observed that faith is the means of forgiveness, and forgiveness is the spring of obedience and of conformity to the mind and will of the All-holy.
III. THE SENTENCE OF ACQUITTAL OR CONDEMNATION IS THEREFORE VIRTUALLY PRONOUNCED BY OURSELVES, AND THAT IN THIS PRESENT LIFE. There is an awful meaning in these words: "He that believeth not hath been judged already." Condemnation is virtually passed upon the unbelieving, even in this life; and it may be said that it is pronounced by themselves. This doctrine of Christ is in no way inconsistent with the scriptural declaration that there shall be a day in which God shall judge all men by Jesus Christ. But it reminds us of the far-reaching, the eternal influence of cur present decision, and bids us "flee from the wrath to come." - T.
I. THE ADVENT OF LIGHT. In the spiritual world light is the emblem of knowledge. Christ is designated by the evangelist "the true Light;" he calls himself "the Light of the world." He brings the knowledge of God, and consequently of salvation and of eternal life. This spiritual sunrise involves the diffusion of purity, peace, and joy.
II. THE PREFERENCE OF SOME MEN FOR DARKNESS OVER LIGHT. In itself light is best. "Light is good, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun." Those who live and walk in the light of God are spiritually blessed. If any person rejects and loathes the light, the fault is in the eye of the soul, which is manifestly diseased. The captive may prefer the dungeon to liberty. Of many of the Jews - Christ's own countrymen - it was justly said, "He came unto his own, and his own received him not." And even now, when the gospel is preached, and men are invited to come into the sunshine of God's favour, there are found those who prefer to lurk in the dark caves of ignorance, superstition, and sin.
III. THEIR REASON OR MOTIVE FOR THIS PREFERENCE. Our Lord speaks explicitly and powerfully upon this. His doctrine, his religion, condemns sin; his gospel is good tidings of deliverance from sin. His own hatred to sin was such that he was crucified by sinners who could not endure his purity, whilst he endured crucifixion that he might redeem men from the power and love of sin. Hence Christ's society was distasteful to impenitent sinners when he was upon earth, and his gospel is distasteful, is repugnant, to the same class today. Those whose works are evil will not come to the light, for thus their evil works would be exhibited in their monstrous heinousness, and they themselves would be reproved.
IV. THE JUDGMENT THUS INCURRED.
1. The ground of judgment is here plainly stated; it is not so much for sin, as for that content and delight in sin, which leads to the rejection of the gospel, to the refusal of deliverance from sin, to the hatred of that Saviour who came to vanquish sin.
2. The court of judgment is implied. The lovers of darkness are condemned by their own conscience, whose dictates they disregard in order to follow the impulses of passion. Yet it is Christ himself, the Word of God, who speaks in human nature, and utters the sentence of disapproval and of condemnation. Thus it is that Christ is to all men either their Saviour or their Judge. His coming to this earth was the cause only of salvation, but to many it was the occasion of judgment and of confusion. - T.
I. THE DISCIPLES' COMPLAINT. It is the embodiment of a blind and angry zeal. And. as such:
1. It is ever disparaging in its language. "He that was with thee beyond Jordan." They address their own master as "Rabbi," but speak of Jesus as "he that was," etc., as if he had no name; and, if he had, it was not worth mentioning compared with their master's. The memory of angry zeal is very shaft, and its respect for supposed opponents or rivals is shorter still.
2. It is ever contradictory in its language. "To whom thou hast borne witness." This part of their complaint contradicts the whole; for, had they reflected a little, they would find that the present actions of Jesus were in perfect harmony with John's past testimony. Blind zeal is ever contradictory, contradicting truth, God, the ministry, and even itself.
3. It is ever inaccurate in its language. "Behold, the same baptizeth." This was virtually true, but literally false. It was a hearsay mistake of the Pharisees, which the evangelist had to correct. Neither cruel opposition nor angry zeal is over-careful about the niceties of truth and accuracy of statement. To hear a thing is quite enough for its purpose.
4. It is ever exaggerating in its language. "And all men come to him." Would this were true! He invited all, and they ought to come. Doubtless Jesus was more popular now than John. The popular flow was towards him; but that all men came to him was an exaggeration, as proved by the evangelist's statement, "And no man receiveth his testimony." Jealous zeal is ever exaggerating. It sees a crowd in a few, and sometimes only a few in a large crowd. There is a vast difference between its reports and those of calm and unbiased truth.
5. It is ever calculated to do much harm. It was calculated, in this instance, to prejudice John against Jesus, and create in his breast a spirit of jealousy and rivalry, especially if we consider the plausibility of the complaint.
(1) It is expressed in a plausible language add manner. He to whom thou barest witness has set up in opposition against thee. Behold, he baptizeth in the very place where thou used to baptize; and this, after all, is his treatment to thee for thy favour and friendship.
(2) It is made by warm friends. His old disciples, in an enthusiastic and kind spirit and from good motives. And this will go very far to influence most teachers.
(3) It is made in a very critical period. John's position was altogether unique and mysterious. His popularity was now on the wane, and he was but a man. And such a complaint made at such a period was calculated strongly to tempt him to doubt and melancholy, if not to a spirit of rivalry and jealousy. And what an incalculable harm would this be! It would be a source of joy to infidelity and atheism through ages, and most damaging to the gospel, if its first great herald gave way in the hour of temptation, proved unworthy of his mission, and unfaithful to his trust.
II. JOHN'S TRIUMPHANT DEFENCE. He stood firm as a rock and majestically calm in the sudden and sweeping storm. His character as the forerunner of the Messiah never shone more brightly titan on this occasion, and, being his last public testimony to Jesus, it reaches a glorious climax and a grand peroration. His defence reveals:
1. The spirituality of his private conceptions.
(1) He looks at heaven as the source of spiritual gifts. "A man can receive nothing," etc. This is the starting point of his noble defence. Before the breath of jealousy, the suggestions of rivalry, and the storms of strife, he goes up at once into his native air, the birthplace of his mission, the nursery of good and holy thoughts, and the source of spiritual power and influence.
(2) He looks at heaven as the only source of spiritual gifts. "A man can receive nothing," etc. You may get the same kind of article in different warehouses; but spiritual power is the gift of God, and of him alone. Divine commissions are issued only from the Divine throne, and spiritual endowments come only from on high; so that neither John nor Jesus could exercise any spiritual power but what he had received.
(3) From this standpoint all is harmonious. There is no room for pride or dejection, and the jealous complaint of the disciples is entirely swept away. John and Jesus were exactly what Heaven made them - John the herald and Jesus the coming Messiah. All things which proceed from heaven are harmonious; and if we want to see them in their harmony and beauty we must view them from above. If we wish to rise above the mists and storms of party jealousy and rivalry, we must ascend into the home of love, peace, and order, and look at things in the light of heaven. From this altitude there can be no rivalry between John and Jesus. All Divine agencies are harmonious. There can be no jealousy between the morning star and the blazing sun. Had John remained down, and viewed things from his disciples' standpoint, he would see and feel as they did. But, like an eagle, he flew up to the vicinity of the sun, the central light of the kingdom of heaven, and all was harmony.
2. The consistency of his public testimony with regard to the Messiah and himself.
(1) As to what he was not. "I am not the Christ." Such were the character, the popularity, and the circumstances of John that he was naturally suspected of being the Messiah. Consequently, much of his testimony was negative, and with all his might he iterated and reiterated, "I am not the Christ," etc.
(2) As to what he was. His forerunner. "I am sent before him." Twice he directly pointed him out, but as a rule he spoke of him in general, but characteristic, terms, that they might know him rather by his character and deeds.
(3) As to the evidence of his consistency. Such was the consistency of his testimony to the Messiah that he could most confidently appeal to his disciples, and even to the complaining ones, "Ye yourselves bear me witness," etc. "Even in your jealous complaint you bear me witness." The invariable uniformity of his testimony to Christ made him now strong in the hour of trial. One wrong step or wrong expression may lead to another. All the links make up the chain. One weak link affects the whole. It is a great source of strength to the preacher if he can summon his audience to bear witness to the consistency of his ministry. One part of life affects the other. John in the wilderness was a great help to John at AEnon. If we wish our public testimony to be consistent, let our private conceptions be spiritual and heavenly.
3. The reasons of his continued attachment.
(1) The relationship of Christ to believers. He is the Bridegroom; they are the bride. As such, the bride is his; "For he that hath the bride is the Bridegroom," and no one else. His claims are absolute, sacred, and indisputable. The bride is his.
(2) His own relationship to Christ. His friend. "The friend of the Bridegroom." As such, his duty was to set forth his excellences so as to win the heart of the bride. The Bridegroom was partly a stranger. He required a friend to introduce him. Such he found in John. He realized his position and duties. By his own superiority, and the plausible, but evil, suggestions of his disciples, he was tempted to take the place of the Bridegroom and win the bride's affections for himself; but he felt that in this he would not be a friend, but the meanest foe. He realized his relationship to Christ, and performed its obligations with increasing firmness and happiness. He had no higher ambition than to be the Bridegroom's friend.
4. The sources of his joy. "Rejoiceth greatly," and why?
(1) At a fuller recognition of Jesus. Before there was expectation, and therefore anxiety and doubt; but these are gone. He hears his voice - the first notes of his public ministry. He recognized him before by appearance, and pointed to him as the "Lamb of God;" but now recognizes him by his voice, and his voice filled the land with Divine music and his soul with ecstatic joy.
(2) At Jesus success. His success in winning the affections of the bride. The joy of having won the bride is the Bridegroom's, but his friend, standing by and hearing, shares it. The voice of the Bridegroom with the bride is joyous - the joy of mutual satisfaction and delight. There is no joy to be compared with that of triumphant and ardent love. Christian joy is common and contagious. The success of the Master produces joy in all the disciples. At the marriage of the Lamb all the good wish him joy, and are joyous with him, especially his friends and forerunners. Jesus is introduced to the soul; but a long time of anxiety often elapses between the introduction and success. When the success comes, what a joy!
(3) At the fulfilment of his own mission. When he heard the voice of the Bridegroom he heard the first victorious notes of his own mission; for his mission was to bring the Bridegroom and the bride together, and prepare for the Lord a ready people. He rejoiced that the great One he had heralded had come. He was often anxious and hesitating, but now joyous. If we herald Christ's coming faithfully, there will be no disappointment on his part; and, when come, every expectation will be more than filled and every want more than satisfied. John was joyous because his mission was fulfilled. The match was made between the King's Son and the captive daughter of Zion - between heaven and earth, between Jesus and believing souls; and it was a very happy one on both sides. The Bridegroom said of the bride, "As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters," and the bride said. of him, "Thou art the Rose of Sharon, and the Lily," etc; and the bridegroom's friend, standing by, heareth, and rejoiceth greatly. What was intended to fill him with jealousy filled him with joy, and, being filled with holy joy, he had no room for anything else.
5. His thorough self-renunciation. "He must increase," etc.
(1) The necessity of this is recognized. John saw the "must" of the case. It was becoming and necessary - the natural course of things. He must increase personally, officially, representatively, and dispensationally. He must increase in his influence in the hearts of humanity, in the institutions of the world, and in the songs of the redeemed. And John must decrease officially. He had introduced the Bridegroom to the bride and, the bride to the Bridegroom, and his work was at an end.
(2) The necessity of this is willingly recognized. "He must," etc. It is one thing to see the necessity of an event, it is another to submit to it willingly. John not only saw the necessity and recognized the law of increase as the lot of Jesus and of decrease as his, but accepted its flat even with joy and delight. It is not only the logic of his head, but the language of his heart. "I am willing; I am glad. Let him ascend and shine; I joyously disappear that he may be manifested." A noble self-sacrifice of the friend, and a befitting introduction to the even nobler one of the Bridegroom.
1. Every true minister is a forerunner of Christ, preparing souls to receive him. When Christ enters the soul by faith, the office of the forerunner is, to a great extent, at an end.
2. Ministers should not go between Jesus and believers. The friend of the Bridegroom should not attempt to take his place in the esteem and affections of the bride. This is the essence of the great apostasy. The friend should act as a friend all through, and nothing more.
3. There should be no jealousy or rivalry between, the disciple and the Master, nor between any of the disciples themselves. Their interests are identical, and their duty is to elevate Christ and bring humanity into living fellowship with him.
4. Ministers should avoid the temptations of declining years, waning popularity, and jealousy of a popular contemporary. All this should be kept down by a spirit absorbed in the sacred mission. Many can act on the stage with better grace than they can leave it. The last notes are often out of harmony with the tune of life. Let the end be a sunset like that of John, beautiful and glowing - a convincing proof of an earnest and a sincere life. - B.T.
I. A MAN PUTTING SELF IN ITS PROPER. PLACE. John is a man ready to say, "I must decrease." If he had not been a man ready to say it, he would never have got the chance of saying it. Ability to speak in this spirit does not spring up all at once. Much in John's position was very tempting to self. It is easily seen how painful it might have been to hear friends coming to say that the crowds once wont to flock round John were now flocking round Jesus. But John had self well in check and discipline. And we must have the same attainment, or self-humiliation in some shape will assuredly come. The truly humble man never can be humiliated. John must ever have borne himself humbly, not forgetting his own sins while so earnest in denouncing the sins of others. We must be willing to accept any kind el decrease that is for the world's good and Christ's glory. Put self in the proper place; that is, always keep it out of the first place.
II. A MAN PUTTING CHRIST IN HIS PROPER PLACE. The increase of Christ and the decrease of John were all of a piece. John's work was soon done. His message was soon given, and then he could only begin over again. With all his greatness he was only one among the company of witnesses. He did his own work in his own generation, and then passed away. He had his time of increase - disciples increasing, influence increasing, name more widely known; and then Jesus comes on the scene, and there is no room for Jesus and John together. But in his own decrease John can rejoice, for it is a consequence of the increase of Jesus. The day never came when Jesus had to look upon some successor to himself and say, "He must increase, and I must decrease." That is the only satisfactory decrease in any of us which comes by the increase of Christ. He can never have too much authority, never be too much spoken about. As life goes on, the feeling should deepen that we cannot do without him.
III. A MAN PUTTING HIS FELLOW MEN IN THEIR PROPER PLACE. One can see a certain chivalry and nobleness in these disciples of John, a certain intention not to desert their master. But John intimates that going to Jesus in the right spirit is advance and not apostasy. It is going from a lower school to a higher. John can only begin; Jesus must finish. Swearing by human teachers and authorities is a miserable business. It is the Spirit of the Lord Jesus himself who is to lead us into truth. There is no true getting of understanding unless we understand from Jesus what he wishes, what he claims, what he proposes.
IV. A MAN WHOM JESUS WILL PUT IN HIS TRUE PLACE AT LAST. It is only relatively that John decreases. Ceasing to serve in a way that draws great public attention, he yet goes on with real service just as much. Jesus will glorify in his own way those who glorify him, and it will be the best way. Not a servant of Christ, however obscure his sphere, however self-forgetting his life, slips to the grave without his Master's notice. There is a sense in which we are able to say, and bound to say, "He must increase, and I must increase too." - Y.
I. A CONTRAST IS HERE IMPLIED BETWEEN CHRIST AND THE PROPHETS,
1. The immediate suggestion seems to be the language in which John the Baptist acknowledged the superiority of the Messiah, whose herald and forerunner he was appointed to be. John was inspired in such measure as was requisite in order to the accomplishment of his mission. But the compass of his revelation was limited, and, powerful as was his preaching, it was of necessity human, and by its very aim one-sided. The inspiration of Christ was very different; for his ministry was Divine and perfect, and needed qualifications altogether transcending those which sufficed for his forerunner.
2. The same was the case with the earlier prophets of the older dispensation. They could, indeed, truly preface their prophecies with the declaration, "The Spirit of the Lord was upon me." But they were commissioned for a purpose, and they were inspired accordingly; and when they foretold the advent of the Messiah, they foretold that that advent should be accompanied by a Divine effusion of blessing - a very flood of spiritual energy and life. And they, as well as John, testified beforehand of the higher gifts of him who should come.
II. REASONS ARE APPARENT FOR THE BESTOWAL OF THE SPIRIT IN UNLIMITED MEASURE UPON THE CHRIST.
1. The Lord Jesus was, by virtue of his Divine nature, capable of receiving the Spirit in a larger degree than all who went before him, than all who followed him.
2. The Father's approval and love of the Son were unlimited; for Christ did always those things that pleased the Father, and the Father declared himself to be well pleased with him.
3. Inasmuch as the Father sent his Son upon a mission altogether unique, one requiring most peculiar qualifications, it was evidently necessary that there should be a corresponding impartation of spiritual power, that the work might be not only performed, but performed in a manner wanting in no respect. The greatest of all works needed the greatest of all gifts.
III. THERE WERE PROOFS IN OUR LORD'S CHARACTER AND MINISTRY THAT HE POSSESSED AN INEXHAUSTIBLE SUPPLY OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD. The whole of the Gospels might be quoted in support of this assertion. Upon Christ rested the Spirit, as the Spirit of wisdom, of power, and of love. His discourses, his mighty works, his demeanour under suffering and wrong, his willing death, his glorious exaltation, - all evinced the presence and indwelling of the immortal power that pervades and hallows to highest ends the spiritual universe of God.
IV. THE UNIQUE OUTPOURING OF THE DIVINE SPIRIT UPON OUR LORD ACCOUNTS FOR THE UNIQUE RESULTS WHICH FOLLOWED HIS MISSION TO EARTH. Thus:
1. Christ's ministry was perfectly acceptable to the Father, who both commissioned and qualified him to become the Mediator.
2. The perfect efficiency of this wonderful ministry was thus secured.
3. The glorious results of Christ's coming into the world were thus accounted for. Why did the Pentecostal effusion, and the subsequent dispensation of the Holy Ghost, follow the exaltation of the Mediator to the throne of dominion? Evidently because in Christ the Spirit overflowed from himself to his people, and to the race for whom he died; because he "received gifts for men." Himself participating in unlimited supply in the graces of the Holy Spirit, he became the glorious agent through whom copious blessings were conferred upon the Church and upon the world. He received, not for himself merely, but for us also. The gifts were unto him, but they were for us. - T.