Thoughts on John 3.

1868 10 It is of great moment that the children of God should observe the fact, that we are not only spoken to in the scriptures, according to our actual state, but addressed as standing in the various relations which the Father's counsel has purposed — or else in what the finished work of Christ has set us — or on account of which the Holy Ghost has sealed us.

The gospel of John is perhaps one of the most striking instances of this, for with what ease, and how in keeping, are we at once taken up to the heights, when "in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God!" We are expected — as belonging to the new creation, as the newly begotten and new born ones — to be as much at home in the mystery of "God manifest in the flesh" and tabernacling in the midst of mankind, as we have been familiar with that far later beginning in time when "God created the heavens and the earth," and when He "breathed into Adam's nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul." Indeed we are spoken of by John as having been once born into the world "according to the flesh, and by the will of man," much more as a point of contrast than of interest; far more as marking the state which we have left for ever, than as tracing a history to which any lustre attaches: in truth, to be born out of this condition — to be born of God — to be no longer confined in the circle of what is measured by time and man's defeat; but to pass out of all on the warrant that "as many as received Christ, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name." This is the evangelist's new charter, and our title for passing from death unto life, from darkness unto light, and out of the whole scene of Satan's power into the kingdom of the Son of God's love.

What a redemption is ours; but what else could it be, when it is accomplished "by the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot?" It is only when the conscience and soul are thus at rest with God, as to His holiness and our sins, that we can at all feel in our proper places, or be led onward to view the Lord Jesus as He was in His own essential being — the eternal Son — the co-equal with God. Into whatever depths He may have descended in time, when He was found in fashion as a man, and up to whatever heights He may have been taken by resurrection, to the right hand of the Majesty on high, the Son of man in the heavens, yet this is not the path by which we are called to know "the Word" in the opening verses of this gospel. We are led to worship and adore Him where the steps which led to His incarnation are not yet in view, any more than the pathway of His present righteous exaltation by ascension glory, which has taken Him back to God.

In the stillness of these two unparalleled verses, "the Word was God," and "the same was in the beginning with God," there are no steps, all is equality — "the same." Creative power, in the first chapters of Genesis, is the rising up and going forth of this Son, for "all things were made by him, and without him was not any thing made that was made." He spake and it was done; He commanded and it stood fast. It is not, however, as a Creator-God that this gospel occupies us (though His creative power and title are maintained), but as the Saviour-God, come into this very earth He had made, when all was forfeited and ruined, to be known as "the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world."

What a wreck did the first man make! But what remedies and resources will the Second man establish for God and for the sinner, so that the very God, who once commanded the light to shine out of darkness, is hourly doing a far greater thing! For He it is who "hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ."

Redemption-work by the cross, resurrection-power from death and eternal life in the Son, are the new subjects of our evangelist. "In him was life, and the life was the light of men; and the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not." These give out the character and dimensions of the work at the cross, by which He could bestow that life on others, and dispel the moral darkness which eclipsed Him. "This is the will of him that sent me, that every one that seeth the Son and believeth on him may have everlasting life, and I will raise him up at the last day."

Besides His own essential and divine glory, and what He was to be in relation to others, there is, further, what He came to reveal, and what He brought as opening out the resources of God's grace and power. As to the first of these He could say, "No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." What a mission is this! One which in all its parts could only be carried out and made good to us by His own sufferings and death. As to the second of these it is said, "For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." And how these two ministries are interwoven, as we see the anointed One pursuing His services in successive chapters.

Another great charm of this manifestation of the Word made flesh, when looked at from our own point of view, is that John marks Him out as the "Son of God" after His birth, from the fact (additional) "Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending and remaining, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost." We shall do well to hold fast these parts of the Son's ministry as given us in this gospel, including the baptism of the Holy Ghost.

How precious is it to see, in our turn, that men upon earth find out the value of this Christ. John, looking upon Jesus as He walked, will say, "Behold the Lamb of God;" and now his two disciples will bid farewell to John and "follow Jesus." Jesus on His part will turn Himself round to them and say, "What seek ye?" and upon the enquiry, "Where dwellest thou?" will give them a hearty welcome as He invites them to "come and see." What new intimacies are here! what new links are being formed by this very One who was awhile ago "with God and was God," but has now brought Himself in a human heart to sinful men, who, at His own request, come and see where He now dwells, and are at home enough with Him and in His presence, to "abide with him that day!" Oh! triumph of divine love, for He who brought "grace and truth" is with those who need it, and they will settle it to perfection in each other's company.

Yea, more, the conscious blessedness of being with Jesus in this dwelling-place of love will lead Andrew forth to find his own brother, that he may taste and see what and who this Messias is, "and he brought him to Jesus" — this new centre on earth between God and His creatures — and a man too! What a reversal of all that separated itself off, and was scattered to the devil, when Adam fell! "And when Jesus saw him coming he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas." Here He begins to write upon us "the new name," and what a name is this, which by interpretation means "a stone!" What a day of all others was this to them and to Him!

"The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me." What grace and truth are come by Jesus Christ we may well say, who see Him, whose "years are throughout all generations," measuring Himself out to us by hours and days, and the day following; and giving Himself forth as "the Lamb of God" at one time, or "the Messias" at another; apprehended as the "Jesus of Nazareth," the son of Joseph, by Philip; and confessed in the far different glory by Nathanael, as the Son of God, the King of Israel!

What a cluster of ripe fruit is springing up around Him, as He thus discovers Himself, and is thus acknowledged, only to be exceeded by His own assurance, "Thou shalt see greater things than these. Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man." "Who is this Son of man?" they may well say in their inmost souls, as some did boldly ask, when speaking afterwards of His resurrection from the dead, "what this rising out of the dead should mean." Here too God has for Himself a "kind of firstfruits of his creatures" — each in his season, and each a proper representation of his class, and all to come out in full, when the latter-day glory shall manifest to sight these living agencies in all their activities between the heavens and the earth — "ascending and descending upon this Son of man — "the man whom God has made strong for himself."

In passing onward into this gospel, we shall learn how Jesus will put Himself into the place of all previous types and ordinances, to fulfil them, and supersede them, as indeed we have already observed Him, taking the place of the Paschal Lamb, as pointed out in that character by John. So He will disturb Nathanael from his reveries, under the typical fig-tree, but only to own the Antitype (as an Israelite, in whom there is no guile, must do), and bring him to the confession of the nation's faith at a yet coming day.

And now we reach the marriage at Cana, which has its own peculiar objects too; for if the beginning of the first chapter has given out the mystery, and revelation of His person, and relations, to the faith of His elect people, so will the second chapter introduce us to "this beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory."

Here we may observe, that the glory of the first chapter has its pathway through the gospel — His personal glory, as I think ("and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth"), and shines brightly in its own peculiar grace at the end. The manifestation of His glory by this beginning of miracles has also its own conspicuous line — His official glory, if we may so say, as well as its own typical meaning for the yet future day of Jehovah's millennial relations with His earthly people when "the land shall be married" and the Lord shall rejoice over Jerusalem like a young man rejoices over his bride. How truly will He in that day turn the water into wine, and how consciously will all own that the finest and the best has been kept till the last! Jesus was then in their very midst, and was doing on a smaller scale what He will do on the larger one, when they shall say, "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord."

What an opportunity this people had of acknowledging their Messiah, as Nathanael had just done! Will they in their turn say, "Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, thou art the king of Israel?" Here comes in, as always, the dark side of the picture; for man and the nation with its city and its temple are to be put to the test. Jesus may shine forth in His personal and in His official glory, by words and deeds; but are there eyes that can see, and hearts that can understand Him, and faith that will receive Him? "And the Jews' passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem." He is ready to give Himself out to the nation and to the world according to "this beginning of miracles," and to manifest forth His glory by acts and deeds, and change all into a marriage scene, with the word "draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast," if they will accept Him.

Is the temple made ready for His reception; or will He say "make not my Father's house a house of merchandise?" He will go up to this beloved Jerusalem, and to its magnificent temple; and present Himself in each, according to promise and prophecy; and now according to the claims and titles of His own person, and wait the issue. What an hour for them and for Him! And He "found in the temple those that sold oxen, and sheep, and doves, and the changers of money sitting; and when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out." What strange action is this for the Lord of the temple, as His disciples remember that it was written, "The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up." The grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ may and will characterize His ministry in the midst of men, as this gospel will fully show us; but He must visit this house, the place of Jehovah's holiness, in another character; righteousness shall go before Him on this errand, and His zeal will vindicate the offended Majesty of, and set aside this outrage on, the Holy One of Israel, by the scourge and the authoritative command, "Take these things hence." "Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign showest thou unto us, seeing thou doest these things?" What an answer does He give them out of the depths of that zeal which has eaten Him up, as He says, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." Care and zeal for the majesty, the holiness, and the word of Jehovah, God of Israel, will lead Him to test these builders further as they talk of "forty and six years;" and as He speaks of these "three days," and then a rearing up, "He spake of the temple of his body;" and so will we, and join His disciples who, "when he was risen from the dead," found the key to this temple, as they "believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had said."

What assurances reach the soul in ways like these, and how different from "the many who believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did;" and how unlike again to these of whom it is said, "but Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men and needed not that any should testify of man, for he knew what was in man." The temple and scourge of small cords have told their own story; and now the searcher of hearts, in the exercise of His divine prerogative, will pronounce His judgment on all that man is, and not commit Himself to them.

The great centre of light, the temple of Jehovah's glory, has gone out in obscurity long ago. The typical glory hovered over its threshold and then the city, till Ezekiel witnessed its departure; and now the Son of God in His day has come to the city of the great king, and to the house of prayer for all nations; but only in His turn to be grieved away, as He says, "Your house is left unto you desolate, and ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord." He must needs supersede the temple and take the place of it by His body, as He had before set aside the Paschal Lamb by being announced as the Lamb of God, or as He will in the next chapter supersede the typical brazen serpent, by saying, "So must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth on him should never perish, but have everlasting life."

This must be our one thought as we now pursue our path more rapidly, that Jesus will step into the place of all previous types and ordinances and supersede them; and, in these new relations to God and to men, will enunciate the wondrous doctrines of grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ in contrast with the law which was given by Moses. He will find His first scholar in this new school in a master of Israel, and reveal Himself to a man of the Pharisees in the grace of the cross; and to this ruler of the Jews in the truth of those strange lessons, taught by "the wind bloweth where it listeth," and by being "born of the Spirit," and yet adding, "Marvel not," for these are the new ways, whether of seeing or entering into the kingdom of God. Nicodemus has found himself the presence of "a teacher come from God" and will suit himself to the occasion, by inquiring as a learner, "How can these things be?" But it is not as a teacher and a scholar that the precious lessons are to be learnt which Jesus came to unfold. No, they must each pass into the deeper place of a Saviour and a sinner, and then settle the upbraidings of a guilty conscience and of a sin-stricken heart, by the ancient shadow of the "serpent which Moses lifted up in the wilderness," giving Himself out to Nicodemus, if he can receive Him in this then mystery — "even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in him should never perish, but have eternal life."

In passing on one feels constrained to say, Alas, how many are still in the place of the man of the Pharisees and in company with this master of Israel, instead of travelling on with Jesus, to learn Himself and the cross, and prove how the side, and the hands, and the feet put to silence all the "hows" of Nicodemus, and turn to flight the doubts which gave them  birth. "And when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away." What a rebuke for the present hour!

This chapter tells us further of another question which arose between some of John's disciples and the Jews about purifying. The ruler had his questions and the Jews have theirs; and may we not add that these very questionings have been stereotyped to us, whatever their difference, from that day to this? "How can these things be?" is the form in which an unbridled mind will put its difficulties or its objections; and questions about purifying the nature of man by ordinances, or by sacraments, or the value of ritualistic observances between God and the soul, are but the exercises and uncertainties of an uneasy conscience. Let us thank God when simple faith in His word takes the place of our reasonings, and when the blood of Christ at once purges and speaks unbroken peace to the conscience and to the heart of the feeblest believer. J. E. Batten.