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(16) The last verse has spoken of "every one who believeth." The thought went beyond the limits that Rabbis set to the kingdom of God. Its only limit is humanity. This thought is now repeated and strengthened by the "might not perish," and the love of God is made the foundation on which it rests. Perhaps no verse in the Bible has been so much explained as this; perhaps no verse can be so little explained.
Most young preachers have sermons upon it; older men learn that its meaning must be felt and thought rather than spoken. Still less can it be written; and this Note may not attempt to do more than indicate some lines of thought which may help to lead to others. God so loved the world.--Familiar as the words are to us, they were uttered to Nicodemus for the first time. They are the revelation of the nature of God, and the ground of our love to God and man.
(Comp. Notes on 1John 4:7-11.)His only begotten Son.--Here, once again, the Old Testament Scriptures suggest and explain the words used. Every Jew knew, and loved to think and tell of his forefather who was willing to sacrifice his own and only son in obedience to what he thought to be the will of God (Genesis 22). But Love gives, and does not require, sacrifice. God wills not that Abraham should give his son, but He gave His only begotten Son.
The dread power that man has ever conceived--that is not God; the pursuing vengeance that sin has ever imagined--that is not God; the unsatisfied anger that sacrifice has ever suggested--that is not God. But all that human thought has ever gathered of tenderness, forgiveness, love, in the relation of father to only child--all this is, in the faintness of an earth-drawn picture, an approach to the true idea of God.
Yes, the true idea is infinitely beyond all this; for the love for the world gives in sacrifice the love for the only begotten Son. Believeth in.--Better, believeth upon. The preposition is not the same as in the last verse. (Comp. John 1:12.) There the thought was of the Son of Man lifted up, in whom every one who believes and can interpret spiritual truth, ever has eternal life. Here the thought is of the Son of God given for the world, and every one who believes upon, casts his whole being upon Him, and, like Abraham, in will rests all upon God, finds that God has provided Himself a lamb for a burnt-offering instead of human sacrifice or death.
Everlasting life.--Better, as the same Greek word is rendered in the previous verse, eternal life. For the meaning of this word see Note on Matthew 25:46. It is of frequent use in this Gospel (seventeen times), and always used in reference to life. Verses 16-21. - (3) Divine love and judgment. Verse 16. - For God so loved the world. The Divine love to the whole of humanity in its condition of supreme need, i.
e. apart from himself and his grace, has been of such a commanding, exhaustless, immeasurable kind, that it was equal to any emergency, and able to secure for the worst and most degraded, for the outcast, the serpent-bitten and the dying, a means of unlimited deliverance and uplifting. The Divine love is the sublime source of the whole proceeding, and it has been lavished on "the world." This world cannot be the limited "world" of the Augustinian, Calvinian interpreters - the world of the elect; it is that "whole world" of which St.
John speaks in 1 John 2:2. "God will have all men to be saved" (1 Timothy 2:4). Calvin himself says, "Christ brought life, because the heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish." Pharisaic interpretations of the Old Testament had left the outside world in judgment, to cursing and condign punishment, and had made Abrahamic descent and sacramental privilege the conditions of life and honour and royal freedom.
Here the poor world is seen to be the object of such love, that he - the Father-God - gave, "delivered up," we do not know certainly to "what," but we may judge from the context that it was such a deliverance, or such giving up. as is involved in the uplifting of the Son of man upon his cross of humiliation and shame. But the Lord in,educes a more wonderful term to denote his own personality. This "Son of man" is none other than his only begotten Son (cf.
notes, John 1:14, 18). Just as Abraham had not kept back his only begotten son from God, so God has not withheld his perfect Image, his Well-beloved, his Eternal Logos, the perfect ideal of sonship. He gave him with the following view: that whosoever believeth in him (εἰς αὐτὸν) may not perish, but have eternal life. The previous saying is repeated as in a grand refrain for which a deeper reason and fuller explanation have been supplied.
Perishing, ruin, the issues of poisonous corruption, might and would, by the force of natural law, work themselves out in the destinies of men. The awful curse was spreading, but it may be arrested. None need be excluded. Looking is living. Believing in this manifestation of Divine love is enough. This is the first, high, main condition. Appropriation of such a Divine gift unriddles the mysteries of the universe, emancipates from the agelong bondage, confers a life which is beyond the conditions or occasions of dissolution.
This verse is infinite in its range, and, notwithstanding a certain vagueness and indefiniteness of expression, presents and enshrines the most central truth of Divine revelation. When the terms "gave," "only begotten Son," "believeth," "life," "perishing," "God," "the world," are fully interpreted, then the words of this text gather an ever-augmenting force and fulness of meaning; and they may have been expanded to meet the prejudices of Nicodemus or the difficulties of disciples.
The idea of gift and giver and the ends of the giving may have at once suggested to the Pharisaic mind the grand distinction between Israel and the world, and the inquiry may have been made - Is not Messiah, then, about to judge the world, to summon all the nations round to hear their doom? To some such heart-deadening query, to some such conscience-benumbing scepticism, our Lord continued - No; this love to the world on the part of God, this condition of faith on the side of man, thus laid down, is perfectly honest and sincere - For God so loved the world,.
... The Persic version reads "men": but not every man in the world is here meant, or all the individuals of human nature; for all are not the objects of God's special love, which is here designed, as appears from the instance and evidence of it, the gift of his Son: nor is Christ God's gift to every one; for to whomsoever he gives his Son, he gives all things freely with him; which is not the case of every man.
Nor is human nature here intended, in opposition to, and distinction from, the angelic nature; for though God has showed a regard to fallen men, and not to fallen angels, and has provided a Saviour for the one, and not for the other; and Christ has assumed the nature of men, and not angels; yet not for the sake of all men, but the spiritual seed of Abraham; and besides, it will not be easily proved, that human nature is ever called the world: nor is the whole body of the chosen ones, as consisting of Jews and Gentiles, here designed; for though these are called the world, John 6:33; and are the objects of God's special love, and to them Christ is given, and they are brought to believe in him, and shall never perish, but shall be saved with an everlasting salvation; yet rather the Gentiles particularly, and God's elect among them, are meant; who are often called "the world", and "the whole world", and "the nations of the world", as distinct from the Jews; see Romans 11:12, compared with Matthew 6:32.
The Jews had the same distinction we have now, the church and the world; the former they took to themselves, and the latter they gave to all the nations around: hence we often meet with this distinction, Israel, and the nations of the world; on those words, ""let them bring forth their witness", that they may be justified, Isaiah 43:9 (say (b) the doctors) these are Israel; "or let them hear and say it is truth", these are "the nations of the world".
'' And again (c), "the holy, blessed God said to Israel, when I judge Israel, I do not judge them as "the nations of the world":'' and so in a multitude of places: and it should be observed, that our Lord was now discoursing with a Jewish Rabbi, and that he is opposing a commonly received notion of theirs, that when the Messiah came, the Gentiles should have no benefit or advantage by him, only the Israelites; so far should they be from it, that, according to their sense, the most dreadful judgments, calamities, and curses, should befall them; yea, hell and eternal damnation.
"There is a place (they say (d),) the name of which is "Hadrach", Zechariah 9:1. This is the King Messiah, who is, , "sharp and tender"; sharp to "the nations", and tender to "Israel".'' And so of the "sun of righteousness", in Malachi 4:2, they say (e), "there is healing for the Israelites in it: but the idolatrous nations shall be burnt by it.'' And that (f). "there is mercy for Israel, but judgment for the rest of the nations.
'' And on those words in Isaiah 21:12, "the morning cometh", and also the night, they observe (g), "the morning is for the righteous, and the night for the wicked; the morning is for Israel, and the night for "the nations of the world".'' And again (h), "in the time to come, (the times of the Messiah,) the holy, blessed God will bring "darkness" upon "the nations", and will enlighten Israel, as it is said, Isaiah 60:2.
'' continued... 16. For God so loved, etc.—What proclamation of the Gospel has been so oft on the lips of missionaries and preachers in every age since it was first uttered? What has sent such thrilling sensations through millions of mankind? What has been honored to bring such multitudes to the feet of Christ? What to kindle in the cold and selfish breasts of mortals the fires of self-sacrificing love to mankind, as these words of transparent simplicity, yet overpowering majesty? The picture embraces several distinct compartments: "The World"—in its widest sense—ready "to perish"; the immense "Love of God" to that perishing world, measurable only, and conceivable only, by the gift which it drew forth from Him; THE Gift itself—"He so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son," or, in the language of Paul, "spared not His own Son" (Ro 8:32), or in that addressed to Abraham when ready to offer Isaac on the altar, "withheld not His Son, His only Son, whom He loved" (Ge 22:16); the Fruit of this stupendous gift—not only deliverance from impending "perdition," but the bestowal of everlasting life; the MODE in which all takes effect—by "believing" on the Son.
How would Nicodemus' narrow Judaism become invisible in the blaze of this Sun of righteousness seen rising on "the world" with healing in His wings! (Mal 4:2). 3:1-8 Nicodemus was afraid, or ashamed to be seen with Christ, therefore came in the night. When religion is out of fashion, there are many Nicodemites. But though he came by night, Jesus bid him welcome, and hereby taught us to encourage good beginnings, although weak.
And though now he came by night, yet afterward he owned Christ publicly. He did not talk with Christ about state affairs, though he was a ruler, but about the concerns of his own soul and its salvation, and went at once to them. Our Saviour spoke of the necessity and nature of regeneration or the new birth, and at once directed Nicodemus to the source of holiness of the heart. Birth is the beginning of life; to be born again, is to begin to live anew, as those who have lived much amiss, or to little purpose.
We must have a new nature, new principles, new affections, new aims. By our first birth we were corrupt, shapen in sin; therefore we must be made new creatures. No stronger expression could have been chosen to signify a great and most remarkable change of state and character. We must be entirely different from what we were before, as that which begins to be at any time, is not, and cannot be the same with that which was before.
This new birth is from heaven, ch. 1:13, and its tendency is to heaven. It is a great change made in the heart of a sinner, by the power of the Holy Spirit. It means that something is done in us, and for us, which we cannot do for ourselves. Something is wrong, whereby such a life begins as shall last for ever. We cannot otherwise expect any benefit by Christ; it is necessary to our happiness here and hereafter.
What Christ speak, Nicodemus misunderstood, as if there had been no other way of regenerating and new-moulding an immortal soul, than by new-framing the body. But he acknowledged his ignorance, which shows a desire to be better informed. It is then further explained by the Lord Jesus. He shows the Author of this blessed change. It is not wrought by any wisdom or power of our own, but by the power of the blessed Spirit.
We are shapen in iniquity, which makes it necessary that our nature be changed. We are not to marvel at this; for, when we consider the holiness of God, the depravity of our nature, and the happiness set before us, we shall not think it strange that so much stress is laid upon this. The regenerating work of the Holy Spirit is compared to water. It is also probable that Christ had reference to the ordinance of baptism.
Not that all those, and those only, that are baptized, are saved; but without that new birth which is wrought by the Spirit, and signified by baptism, none shall be subjects of the kingdom of heaven. The same word signifies both the wind and the Spirit. The wind bloweth where it listeth for us; God directs it. The Spirit sends his influences where, and when, on whom, and in what measure and degree, he pleases.
Though the causes are hidden, the effects are plain, when the soul is brought to mourn for sin, and to breathe after Christ. Christ's stating of the doctrine and the necessity of regeneration, it should seem, made it not clearer to Nicodemus. Thus the things of the Spirit of God are foolishness to the natural man. Many think that cannot be proved, which they cannot believe. Christ's discourse of gospel truths, ver.
11-13, shows the folly of those who make these things strange unto them; and it recommends us to search them out. Jesus Christ is every way able to reveal the will of God to us; for he came down from heaven, and yet is in heaven. We have here a notice of Christ's two distinct natures in one person, so that while he is the Son of man, yet he is in heaven. God is the HE THAT IS, and heaven is the dwelling-place of his holiness.
The knowledge of this must be from above, and can be received by faith alone. Jesus Christ came to save us by healing us, as the children of Israel, stung with fiery serpents, were cured and lived by looking up to the brazen serpent, Nu 21:6-9. In this observe the deadly and destructive nature of sin. Ask awakened consciences, ask damned sinners, they will tell you, that how charming soever the allurements of sin may be, at the last it bites like a serpent.
See the powerful remedy against this fatal malady. Christ is plainly set forth to us in the gospel. He whom we offended is our Peace, and the way of applying for a cure is by believing. If any so far slight either their disease by sin, or the method of cure by Christ, as not to receive Christ upon his own terms, their ruin is upon their own heads. He has said, Look and be saved, look and live; lift up the eyes of your faith to Christ crucified.
And until we have grace to do this, we shall not be cured, but still are wounded with the stings of Satan, and in a dying state. Jesus Christ came to save us by pardoning us, that we might not die by the sentence of the law. Here is gospel, good news indeed. Here is God's love in giving his Son for the world. God so loved the world; so really, so richly. Behold and wonder, that the great God should love such a worthless world! Here, also, is the great gospel duty, to believe in Jesus Christ.
God having given him to be our Prophet, Priest, and King, we must give up ourselves to be ruled, and taught, and saved by him. And here is the great gospel benefit, that whoever believes in Christ, shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, and so saving it. It could not be saved, but through him; there is no salvation in any other. From all this is shown the happiness of true believers; he that believeth in Christ is not condemned.
Though he has been a great sinner, yet he is not dealt with according to what his sins deserve. How great is the sin of unbelievers! God sent One to save us, that was dearest to himself; and shall he not be dearest to us? How great is the misery of unbelievers! they are condemned already; which speaks a certain condemnation; a present condemnation. The wrath of God now fastens upon them; and their own hearts condemn them.
There is also a condemnation grounded on their former guilt; they are open to the law for all their sins; because they are not by faith interested in the gospel pardon. Unbelief is a sin against the remedy. It springs from the enmity of the heart of man to God, from love of sin in some form. Read also the doom of those that would not know Christ. Sinful works are works of darkness. The wicked world keep as far from this light as they can, lest their deeds should be reproved.
Christ is hated, because sin is loved. If they had not hated saving knowledge, they would not sit down contentedly in condemning ignorance. On the other hand, renewed hearts bid this light welcome. A good man acts truly and sincerely in all he does. He desires to know what the will of God is, and to do it, though against his own worldly interest. A change in his whole character and conduct has taken place.
The love of God is shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost, and is become the commanding principle of his actions. So long as he continues under a load of unforgiven guilt, there can be little else than slavish fear of God; but when his doubts are done away, when he sees the righteous ground whereon this forgiveness is built, he rests on it as his own, and is united to God by unfeigned love. Our works are good when the will of God is the rule of them, and the glory of God the end of them; when they are done in his strength, and for his sake; to him, and not to men.
Regeneration, or the new birth, is a subject to which the world is very averse; it is, however, the grand concern, in comparison with which every thing else is but trifling. What does it signify though we have food to eat in plenty, and variety of raiment to put on, if we are not born again? if after a few mornings and evenings spent in unthinking mirth, carnal pleasure, and riot, we die in our sins, and lie down in sorrow? What does it signify though we are well able to act our parts in life, in every other respect, if at last we hear from the Supreme Judge, Depart from me, I know you not, ye workers of iniquity? Jump to Previous Age-During Ages Begotten Believes Believeth Destruction Eternal Everlasting Faith Greatly Loved Only-Begotten Perish Trusts World Jump to Next Age-During Ages Begotten Believes Believeth Destruction Eternal Everlasting Faith Greatly Loved Only-Begotten Perish Trusts World Links John 3:16 NIVJohn 3:16 NLTJohn 3:16 ESVJohn 3:16 NASBJohn 3:16 KJVJohn 3:16 Biblia ParalelaJohn 3:16 Chinese BibleJohn 3:16 French BibleJohn 3:16 German BibleAlphabetical: and begotten believes but eternal For gave God have he him his in life loved not one only perish shall so Son that the whoever worldNT Gospels: John 3:16 For God so loved the world that (Jhn Jo Jn) Christian Bible Study Resources, Dictionary, Concordance and Search Tools