Discourses on John 3:1-21


John 3:13 (1)

And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.
After a long intermission, I now return to the discourse of our Lord with Nicodemus. This verse introduces what I observed may be distinguished as the third general head of doctrine: the great design of his coming into the world to give life to those who were at the point of death. And it likewise stands as a fit close and conclusion to the second: namely the certainty and evidence of divine truth, and the insufficiency of man by any wisdom, or power of his own either to discover or embrace them. In the words we have:
1. An exclusion or denial of the knowledge necessary to salvation, to any of the sons of Adam: No man hath ascended.
2. An assertion or vindication of this knowledge to himself: He that came down – that is, the Son.
3. The gracious use he made of his knowledge: he came down from heaven, that is, to teach it to sinners (chapter 1:18). [1]
4. A singular expression, suited to confirm our faith in his divinity: the Son of man who is in heaven.
1. The first clause, No man (or no one) hath ascended, evidently implies:
  1.1 That this knowledge – I mean of what concerns the salvation and eternal happiness of fallen man – if ever attained, must be received from heaven. That sin had made a great breach between God and man, man might easily learn and feel upon earth, but how it might be repaired, was a point that lay beyond the reach of human thought. The heathen world felt the disease, but were utterly ignorant of any suitable remedy. The only thing amongst them that looked that way, was some imperfect tradition concerning sacrifices – that life and blood was the proper atonement for sin – the universal prevalence of sacrifices throughout the world, is not deducible from the principles of natural reason, can (I think) be only accounted for from their having been divinely appointed from the beginning – and the practice retained, though the reason and design was utterly mistook and forgot. The heathens thought their sacrifices were expiatory in themselves, and had no view beyond them to the Lamb of God's providing. Therefore this consideration discredits all the ways and means of men's contrivance to make their own peace with God, it is sufficient to confute them all to say that they were invented upon earth, and not brought down or received from above. In what way the holy God would be pleased to deal with sinners must be an impenetrable secret, till he should be pleased to disclose it. Till then every appearance and attempt of a religious kind is nothing but will worship. And all who serve God with their own inventions will at length be struck dumb with that question, Who hath required these things at your hands? [2] This is equally true of heathens or professed Christians, without his teaching and warrant, your seeming religion has neither truth or authority. Examine therefore on what foundation you stand, while it is not yet too late to correct a mistake. Some notions you have of religion, some thoughts about your acceptance with God, but did you receive them from heaven, did you learn them from the Bible? Not if you trust to what you may be willing to call:
    1.1.1 your repentance
This is indeed a part of a Christian's character, but not such a repentance as many talk of – the true, is received from heaven – it is the gift of Jesus. And those who have it know better than to trust to it, or put it in the room of his precious blood.
    1.1.2 sincerity
This some account much of. They own some things are wrong, but they think they shall do upon the whole, for they mean well, have a good heart etc. But none who have received the truth from heaven can thus talk. They see their hearts vile and a leaven of hypocrisy, cleaving as close to their nature as leprosy to the skin.
    1.1.3 obedience
Some ignorant of themselves and of God's laws have the presumption to lay claim to this. But wo to that obedience, which is put in the place of the righteousness of Christ.
  1.2 That though God graciously intended to show mercy to fallen man, yet he would not treat with them in their own persons. No one of them ascended into heaven, that is, was made acquainted with the divine counsels. There was a necessity for a Mediator or Daysman, some one who was able and worthy to lay his hand on both parties and to undertake for both. There can be no immediate communication from a holy God to sinners, but in a way of wrath. The covenant of grace, therefore was established not with man, but with and in Christ Jesus, as a foreknowledge of the fall, before either man or the earth was made. 2 Timothy 1:9. [3] From hence we may infer:
    1.2.1 That all the manifestations of God in Old Testament times were made in and through the Lord Christ, the Word, who in the fullness of time was made flesh. It was he spoke to Adam, Moses and Israel etc. This removes an objection that might be made, from the translation of Enoch and the ascent of Moses to God upon the Mount. My text speaks not of a bodily ascension, but of a discovery of the mind of God, which they did not receive immediately to and for themselves, but from him, who descended from heaven, to instruct them in what he had received in behalf of his people, whom he had engaged to save.
    1.2.2 That all supposed or pretended discoveries of light from above, which are not derived from Christ the great prophet, may be safely rejected as false, however fair and plausible they may seem. By this rule we may try the spirits and doctrines of teachers. If they are led by the Spirit of God, they are led to a knowledge and depend upon Jesus for the Spirit's express office is to glorify him.
2. Our Lord vindicates this honour to himself
He who came down from heaven, was fully qualified to teach us all that is needful for us to know in order to be happy. In proof of this point see John 1:18; 14:9; Proverbs 8:22–30 with many other passages. [4]
  2.1 With respect to his divine nature he is the essential wisdom of God.
  2.2 He has likewise as Mediator a communicated fullness of all wisdom anointed with the Spirit without measure, for this very purpose, to reveal unto us, what man is to believe and what is required of him.
1. Believers – You have good warrant for your reliance on Christ in every view. You have not followed cunningly devised fables. He is worthy in himself, and was pointed out to us by a voice from heaven. Matthew 3:17. [5]
2. Seekers – receive his word. Do you want to hear from him what God has spoken? Attend and believe. John 6:29,40. [6]
3. [Others] – But may we not complain (as in the prophet) of too many, Jeremiah 2:13. [7] An horrible evil indeed, to reject Christ, and cleave to your own imaginations. If men died without mercy for rejecting Moses, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? [8]

Series No. 16

[1] John 1:18 No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.
[2] Isaiah 1:12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?
[3] 2 Timothy 1:9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,
[4] John 1:18 No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.
John 14:9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father?
Proverbs 8:22-30 The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was… Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him;
[5] Matthew 3:17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
[6] John 6:29,40 Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.
[7] Jeremiah 2:13 For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.
[8] Hebrews 2:3 How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him;

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

Marylynn Rouse, 28/10/2020