Discourses on John 3:1-21


John 3:2

The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God:
for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
Our Lord was indeed a teacher sent from God, and we who know his character are ready to wonder that he was not generally received. But his enemies who hated him had many plausible objections to discourage some from hearing, and to divert others from attending to what he said. They objected the supposed place of his birth, Nazareth, concerning which those who were not diligent to search out the truth might easily mistake, as his mother had lived there before he was born and returned while he was very young (chapter 7:52). [1] This stumbled Nathaniel for a season. [2] They pretended that he broke the Sabbath. [3] They urged the character and meanness[lowliness] of his followers, etc. [4] We may therefore wonder that Nicodemus could break through so many prejudices. We are here informed what prevailed on him – the works which Jesus did, led him to think that, notwithstanding all his brethren could say, he must be an extraordinary person – for no [man] could do such things except God was with him.
1. He concluded that the works of Christ, such as to raise the dead etc, necessarily required a divine power. His enemies acknowledged them beyond the power of man, but would have it thought he did them by the assistance of Satan. [5] But this black, malicious charge was confuted by a single question: Is Satan divided against himself? [6] How could the great enemy of mankind assist, if he had been able, in producing such wonderful acts of compassion and bounty? Which way Satan’s power (so far as he is permitted to act) is exercised, we may see in the case of the man possessed with a legion. [7]
2. He concluded that as our Lord’s miracles were wrought in confirmation of his character and doctrine, God would not have owned him by his power, unless his doctrine had been true, and he a teacher sent from him as he professed.
We are to apply this reasoning to our own circumstances. Our Lord foretold that his Gospel after his ascension would meet with the same reception as his person – that those who preached in his name should do the same works which he did, or even greater, that they should be chiefly owned (as he was) by the poor and ignorant, and generally rejected by those who were in most esteem with the world – for their seeming wisdom and goodness, or their rank in life. We find his words fulfilled. As the Scribes and the Pharisees who professed great regard to the Scriptures, taught the people falsehood from truth, and opposed Christ – so in many countries called Christian there is a sort of doctrine generally taught, which cannot be from God because, it is attended with no mighty works, nor does it glorify Jesus, which is the great object of the Christian ministry. But here and there another sort of preaching prevails which tends to lay low the haughty looks of man, that the Lord alone may be exalted. It proclaims a feast of good things for the hungry – but sends those who are rich and wise in their own conceits empty away. But wherever this is heard the world is presently in an uproar. It is charged with licentiousness, folly and madness – the preachers and professors of it are loaded with reproach, and all who are disposed to hear it are either pitied as out of their wits, or opposed as if they had been guilty of some great crime. However there are such mighty effects attending it, as lead some before they hear it, to reason as Nicodemus – Surely it must be of God, or else how can these things be? They long to know more about it – but for a while, like him, they are afraid or ashamed to be seen among a people that are everywhere spoken against. Let us enquire whether their apprehensions in favour of it are well founded.
But let us first briefly speak of this doctrine. Its chief points are:
1. To show that all mankind are by nature under the curse of the law.
2. That there is no deliverance from this curse but by Jesus.
3. That no work of man contributes in the least to their acceptance with God.
4. That true religion supposes an entire change in the soul and all its faculties and that without this change of the heart the most costly or painful services are of no value or acceptance before God.
This is what we mean by the Gospel doctrine. The sum and substance of it is Jesus Christ and him crucified. This awakens the opposition and scorn of men, even as the appearance and preaching of Christ in the flesh did. But we are bold to say, that by this doctrine as the means, such mighty works are wrought as necessarily declare the power of God does accompany it – such works as no other sort of preaching can effect, such works, as in the spiritual sense are answerable to the miracles which our Lord wrought in the view of the Jews, and are equally sufficient to condemn those of obstinacy, who refuse to acknowledge the doctrine to be of God.
Some of these works our Lord sums up as evidences of his mission to John’s disciples: Luke 27:22 [Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached.]
1. The blind see
This was a proof of the power of God – and so acknowledged: John 10:21. [8] His ministers cannot indeed give bodily sight, but they are his instruments to open the eyes of the mind. All men are blind till the Gospel gives them sight – stark blind to the things of God – they know not where they are going, they are insensible of danger though they stand upon the brink of it. They know not God or themselves.
But this foolishness of preaching opens the eyes of many – and they can say, whereas I was blind, now I see. [9] Where this preaching is applied to the heart by the Spirit, those who were before ignorant are made wise. Yea though they are of mean[lowly] capacities, and of the lowest ranks in life, they soon outstrip such as have the greatest natural advantages, if they have not this likewise.
2. The deaf hear
God is often speaking to sinners – to their consciences by his Spirit, to their eyes and their ears by his providence – but they are deaf. Though his voice is in the city there is no man of wisdom to understand it, [10] till the preaching of the Gospel comes, then the ears of the deaf are unstopped, and:
3. The dumb speak
Men indeed are not dumb wholly. They have tongues which they think are their own. Words of blasphemy, cursing, lying and vanity they are free to speak – but with respect to the best use and purpose of speech they are as dumb as fishes, till the knowledge of sin, and of a Saviour opens their mouths. Then they speak to God’s praise and say, Come and I will tell you what He hath done. [11]
4. The lame walk
There is inability for the service of God in us by nature as much as in a cripple to run a race. So that when the conscience is a little alive, and a necessity is seen to forsake evil, and practice that which is good, there is no power at all – till the Son makes them free by the light of the preached Gospel, and then they are free indeed. [12]
5. The lepers are cleansed
The leprosy was an emblem of sin as:
  5.1 a total pollution
  5.2 such as separated a person from a communion in wholly[holy] things
  5.3 incurable to natural and ordinary means
  In this disorder all helps and medicines were of no value. God alone could heal it. But Jesus cleansed the lepers, and by his Gospel he cleanses from the leprosy of sin and frees those who believe from its guilt, and from its power. In fine: [13]
6. The dead are raised
Devils are cast out, and raging storms silenced by this powerful word. That is, those who were dead and[in] trespasses and sins, habitually accustomed to evil, so led and governed and hurried on by Satan in his wicked service, as to break through all restraints, like the man possessed with a legion, are made partakers of a new and spiritual life, brought to their right minds and enabled to live according to the will of God, to be comfortable in themselves and useful, exemplary to those about them.
Now if you ask who or where are these extraordinary persons:
1. I acknowledge they are comparatively but few – the subjects of our Lord’s miraculous power were but few likewise – and he has taught us to expect that his flock will be a little flock.
2. I confess the best are subject to so many infirmities – so many things are still amiss (for this is but a begun work),[1] that it may seem more suitable for those who have experienced something of this change, to lie in the dust before the Lord, than to say much good of themselves.
3. I allow that too many are pretenders. We dare not by way of appeal, send you to every one that makes a profession of this doctrine. This likewise we are taught to expect. But:
4. There are some – and not hard to be found and known, if people are candid and fair in their enquiries – who are living witnesses for God and his truth, who are not ashamed of the Gospel, nor a shame to it, but have found and do evidence that it is the power of God unto salvation – and whose lives and conversations to[do] prove that they are different from what they once were, and from the generality of those about them.
On the other hand, we challenge any to produce instances of the same effects wrought by any other doctrine. How much is said and wrote to tell people what they should be and what they do – yet where the Gospel principles are not enforced there is nothing done, nothing attempted, beyond a formal round of dull and heartless service. A little something like religion on Sundays – to go to church when the bell tolls, to repeat words because other people do, to hear without attention – and then to run full swing into the world again.
Or if here and there a person is truly touched, where they have no better helps the consequence always is, that they renounce the things they before held for truths, are brought into that way of thinking which is agreeable to the Gospel preaching, and receive it gladly whenever it comes in their way.
Inference from the whole: If then this doctrine is from God, take heed lest any of you neglect and despise it.
And let every wounded, wearied soul fully trust to it, for it will bear them out.

Series No. 2

[1] John 7:52 They answered and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.
[2] John 1:46 And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.
[3] John 5:18 Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.
[4] Acts 4:13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.
[5] Luke 11:15 But some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devils.
[6] Luke 11:18 If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? because ye say that I cast out devils through Beelzebub.
[7] Mark 5:2-5,9 And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, Who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains: Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones… And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many.
[8] John 10:21 Others said, These are not the words of him that hath a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?
[9] John 9:25 He answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.
[10] Micah 6:9 The Lord's voice crieth unto the city, and the man of wisdom shall see thy name: hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it.
[11] Psalm 66:16 Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul.
[12] John 8:36 If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.
[13] in fine [Latin]: finally
[14] Philippians 1:6 Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:

Cowper & Newton Museum, 714(1) No. 2

Marylynn Rouse, 28/10/2020