Discourses on John 3:1-21


John 3:12

If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not,how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?
The expressions here are to be taken in a comparative sense. Our Lord taught no earthly things, he left the world in the full possession of its own wisdom. How easily could he have corrected or prevented the mistakes of philosophers, historians, etc, but he spoke not a syllable on these heads. He came into the world on a more important, more extensive design, in which rich and poor, the wise and unlearned were equally concerned and at a loss. By earthly things here we may understand, either:
1. The doctrine he had been teaching Nicodemus, which though indeed spiritual and heavenly itself, was the lowest and first truth in his school, and which a man might and must understand in his present earthly state of flesh and blood, in order to be capable of the more sublime and heavenly knowledge which he had to communicate, qed [1] If you cannot receive this, which lies so near and which is to be experienced in yourself, how can you possibly judge of those still more mysterious truths which I came from heaven to reveal concerning my person, and the great things of eternity? Or,
2. It may refer to the manner of his teaching. If you do not understand me in the familiar, condescending way I have used, in representing these things by comparing them to what you are daily acquainted with, as the water and the winds, how far are you from conceiving of them as they are in themselves. What would you say if I should speak of them in such language as they properly deserve?
We may unite both senses. If you understand not the doctrine of the new birth, you are quite unable to judge of the other truths of the gospel. And if you do not see the propriety of the illustrations our Lord has made use of you may be assured that you are utterly ignorant of the new birth itself. Begin with this first.
1. The truths of the gospel, and this leading truth amongst the rest, are of a spiritual nature and can only be represented to us by comparisons taken from earthly things. We have no ideas but what are derived from our senses, therefore, he who knows our frame, has been pleased to place us in such a world, that the outward objects we are acquainted with should be suited to lead our thoughts to spiritual truths. Absolutely and in themselves they cannot do this, but God has appointed them to this end, by employing them in his word. There is hardly an object can strike your eyes, but you will find it made use of in the Scripture to remind and explain to you some truth in which your souls are concerned. Thus Jesus is compared to the sun, a rock, a house, etc, the spiritual life to a race, a warfare, the joys of heaven to a crown, a kingdom. This is the right use of earthly things and if our hearts were in frame, we should be receiving new instructions and consolation from everything around us. Thus if our Lord had spoke of the great change without which we cannot be saved, and had made use of no comparison to describe it, it would have been no wonder that Nicodemus had not understood him. But the wonder, or rather the grief, is that after all he has done, it is to many still dark and unintelligible.
Would you know therefore if you are acquainted with the new birth? Try it by this rule. The best proof that a key belongs to a lock is when it will open it. So if you are right, your inward experience will be as a key to open the expressions of Scripture, and what is locked up to others will be plain to you. If you know what it is to be born again, then
  1.2 you will see its necessity
  1.2 you understand its nature
  1.3 you acknowledge its author
  But if not so, you are still in your sins, and you know in your own conscience that you can make nothing of our Lord's explanation.
2. As the experience of your heart is the key to what is taught of the new birth so the experience of this truth is the key to other doctrine. If you know not this, how should you know the rest? Everyone thinks himself qualified to judge, but it is only the spiritual man (who is born again) can judge all things. 1 Corinthians 2:15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. Others stumble at the very threshold, and plunge themselves into error and confusion. What disputes are started concerning:
  2.1 The person of Christ
Those who know not the worth of him, know not what to make of him. When a learned man is acquainted with Jesus he can prove his divinity by many arguments, which have their use at times – but the meanest of the flock who are born again, need not many arguments; they have the witness in themselves. But if the learned man takes the other side of the question what strange work does he make, for the knowledge of Christ does not depend upon Latin and Greek, but upon a new birth in the soul.
  2.2 Election
Till we are born again we either fight against this truth, or abuse it – but when this work is wrought the soul is brought if not at first yet by degrees to acknowledge it, to see it must be so. The proof is short – the choice must begin somewhere – I am sure I did not choose the Lord for I was running away from him. It is true some are kept from this for a time, by falling in with the prejudices of others, and calling men Master, but let an awakened be left to the study of the Bible and his own heart, and his experience will teach him that all his hopes are owing to free, sovereign grace.
  2.3 The use of the means
How the Lord works by and with our endeavours in his appointed way. This is a hard point to many. Some rest in them and look no farther, others despise them because they cannot make them effectual by their own power – but the heaven born soul, unless perplexed by the vain reasonings of others, sees the thing at once – and finds that though the means in themselves are weak, yet being of the Lord's appointment he does feed them by them, and lead them on from strength to strength.
Let believers and awakened souls praise the Lord:
1. For suiting himself to our capacities.
2. For giving us the entrance into the spiritual life. And let them:
3. Rejoice –
  that there are greater things behind, 1 Corinthians 2:9 [But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him],
  unsearchable, Ephesians 3:8 [Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ]
  inexpressible, 2 Corinthians 12:4 [How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter].
And O that others might see the necessity of seeking the Lord with their whole hearts. If you know not the new birth you know nothing – you know not the happiness you reject – you know not the terrors of the Lord which you despise. O if death should open your eyes, how great would be your astonishment, how dreadful your loss. The Lord spare. The Lord turn you.

Series No. 15

1. ‘qed’ Latin: quod erat demonstrandum, ‘which was to be demonstrated’ – Newton wrote ‘qd’ but I think ‘qed’ may be assumed in the context

Cowper & Newton Museum, 714(2) No. 4