Nicodemus — The Samaritan; The People — The Jews.

John 3 — 8.

1866 38 To apprehend the light or truth of the Lord is needful to our safe conduct through the scene around us; but to discern His Spirit, His tastes, habits of thought, sympathies and aversions, all pure and perfect as they were, so many expressions of the divine mind, gives elevation to our conduct.

Something of His sympathies and aversions may be discovered from His different method with Nicodemus, the Samaritan, and the multitude in John iii., iv., vi. There is this common purpose in all these scenes. The Lord is putting the soul upon a sinner's ground.

This, however, is done by a different method in each case; and in this different method His Spirit, His tastes, His sympathies or aversions, as we have expressed it, manifest themselves.

Nicodemus was "a master in Israel," a religious "ruler of the Jews." He was of the Pharisees, one, therefore, of a party that had set itself boldly against Jesus. But at this time there was evidently some working of conscience in him. He comes to Christ as a pupil, to learn lessons and mysteries. The Lord transfers him from that ground and puts him under the uplifted serpent, that is, instructs him to come to Him as a bitten Israelite, or as a poor sinner that needed life.

He does this, as we might say, shortly or at once, stopping him at the first utterance of his lips; but withal patiently, and with evident interest in him personally.

The Samaritan woman was one of the thoughtless children of the world. Life and its enjoyments and occupations were all to her. She was shrewd and a woman of good understanding, and, as far as that led her, not ignorant of the religion of the day. But life in the world was her object. She was on the ground where common fallen nature had put her. She had not, therefore, sought the Lord like Nicodemus, but one of the ordinary circumstances of human life had thrown them together. Such an one, I may say, was just the one for the Son of God. He meets her, therefore, in her place, and speaks in her own language to her. But from that place, without rebuke, without abruptness, He removes her on the ground of a convicted sinner, and then reveals Himself to her.

She had assumed a place as the ruler had, and Christ allows the whole passage from darkness to light to be made more rapidly. The same occasion witnesses the whole journey, as it does not in the case of Nicodemus. The Lord at first only turns him toward the right road.

The multitude are distinct from both. There was no working of conscience in them, as in Nicodemus; nor were they simply on the ground or in the place of nature, like the Samaritan. They were in the religious activity of the day, and were making their profit by it. They followed Jesus, not because they saw the miracles, but because they did eat of the loaves and were filled. They followed Him for what they could get. Such a material is very offensive to the mind of Christ; nothing more so. But He does not at once cast it aside. He can bear with anything in the patience of His grace towards sinners. He does not, therefore, cast the multitude aside, though they did thus form a material so repulsive to Him. He was decisive and yet patient with the Jewish master. He was serving and leading the poor Samaritan from first to last, without a strong or rebuking word; and now in a long discourse He strives with the multitude, and would fain put them on paschal ground, or in the place of sinners who needed the life of His flesh and blood, evidently, however, throughout with a mind much averted from the place and character in which they were showing themselves, and begins His answer to them not merely shortly, but rebukingly. (John vi. 26.) How perfect in patience and grace, and yet in the various expression of taste and of sympathy, all these ways and methods are! And, let me say, there is no joy like that of learning our lessons from the Lord in the place and character of sinners, that place which the Lord is putting us all into, ere He will teach us anything. For all that we get from Him in that character brings with it this conviction — how rich and wondrous that love must be that will give anything to creatures so vile and worthless. And Peter was on that ground to which the Lord was here either turning or seeking to turn Nicodemus, the Samaritan, and the multitude. (See John vi. 68, 69.) His soul dealt with Jesus as its life — that was the true apprehension, the apprehension of one who stood in the place to which the drawings of the Father always lead.**

[* The Pharisees were lords in religion: their dignity and their wealth proceeded from it: they were highly esteemed among men because of their connection with it. The multitudes in this chapter were traders in it: they profited by it: they dropped into the professing current of the day, for it was their advantage. Both, I need not say, are hateful, and we all get warnings from these things.

** "This month shall be unto you the beginning of months, it shall be the first month of the year unto you." (Exodus xii. 2.) The beginning of the year was changed, to let Israel know that their life was now not the life of creatures but of ransomed sinners, that eternity with God is to be spent in that character. The passover was the moment in their history when they formally entered on that character, being then sheltered from destruction by blood, sprinkled on their doorposts, and therefore that moment was made the beginning of the year to them.

The early chapters in John's Gospel, as we have now seen, have this object — to show how the Lord put all those who came to Him on the ground of sinners. He would receive them only (whether Nicodemus, the Samaritan, or the multitude) as sinners.

I ask, was not this the echo of Exodus xii. 2? Was not this a telling of them, as they had already been told by that ordinance, that they must begin as poor sinners?]

Most happy for our souls is it to see, and see so clearly, this way of the Lord. He cannot welcome us, if we bring not our sins with us, if we come not as to a Saviour.

These chapters, however, present another class to us, called, "the Jews." We see them specially in chapters 5, 7, 8. This is a distinct class of persons. We have Nicodemus in chapter 3, the Samaritan in chapter 4, and the multitude in chapter 6; but in these three chapters, we have "the Jews," as they are called.

They were, evidently, the religious head, or rulers of the people, scribes and pharisees, but John, generally, calls them "the Jews." (See John i. 19; John ii. 18; 5:10; John vii. 13, etc.) In John 5 the Lord convicts them. They had the witness of the Father's works done in the earlier days of their nation, like to which works were His own works at the pool of Bethesda — they had the testimony of John, they had their own scriptures. But they had not been obedient, they had not believed, and were indulging their enmity and murderous purposes against Him — and all this because they had not the love of God in them and received honour one of another.

In John vii., He convicts them further. They had not been subdued by the previous word, but were, as before, still seeking to kill Him. (See John 5:16; John viii. 1.) Ho now further convicts them by the law of Moses, and by their own practices under the law of circumcision.

In John viii. He convicts them still further, assigning them the place and character which now attached to them — as representing the atheistic revolt of man from God, "the seed of the serpent."

This is indeed a most solemn matter. Direct enmity is, accordingly, in the scene of this chapter, put between them and Him, "the woman's seed," as we read in Genesis iii, and "the serpent's seed."

The whole scene may easily remind us of that chapter, as well as direct though tacit reference to it in verse 44.

The serpent found in Eden a scene of purity and happiness. He entered it with the intent of corrupting and ruining it. "He was a murderer from the beginning." And the deadly weapon he used was a lie. "He abode not in the truth: he is a liar: when he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is the father of it." And he accomplished his purpose. Through his lie he ruined the creature whom God had lately fashioned and blest. But now, in contrast with all this, the Son of God had begun His action. He came and found the scene altogether different from Eden. Misery and death by reason of sin filled it. A convicted adulteress, and not an unspotted Eve appeared before Him. But He had come with the intent of saving. And the instrument of His ministry was the truth, "He that sent me is true, and I speak to the world those things which I have heard of Him." And He shelters the convicted sinner in His own presence as, "the light of life," rebuking her accusers away, and hindering the fiery anger of the law from reaching her.* But their resistance of Him leaves for them, under His judgment, this awful place and character," ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do." The serpent had resisted the lovely work of God in the garden of old and ruined an upright creature; they were now resisting His work in a ruined world, coming to save it. They were at enmity with the person and work of the woman's Seed.

But even with this class of persons (occupying, as we have now seen, the most solemn position that man not irrecoverable, could fill) the Lord pleads, saying "if ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins." (John viii. 24.) It is short in the midst of most awful condemnation, but still it is pleading — as with all the rest.

[*His "works" were of one character with His "words." They were works of the Father, works of healing and of grace. His works He had witnessed on the man at Bethesda, and now witnesses kindred words on this adulteress. See John xv. 22, 23.]