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John 3:29-34

29. He who hath the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who standeth, and heareth him, rejoiceth exceedingly on account of the bridegroom’s voice. This my joy, therefore, is fulfilled. 30. He must increase, but I must decrease. 31. He who cometh from above is above all; he who is from the earth is of the earth, and speaketh 6868     “Et parle de la terre, ou, comme issu de terre;” — “and speaketh of the earthy or, as having proceeded from the earth.” of the earth: he who cometh from heaven is above all. 32. And what he hath seen and heard, this he testifieth, and no man receiveth his testimony. 33. But he who receiveth his testimony hath sealed that God is true. 34. For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God, for God giveth not the Spirit by measure.

 

29. He who hath the bride. By this comparison, he confirms more fully the statement, that it is Christ alone who is excluded from the ordinary rank of men. For as he who marries a wife does not call and invite his friends to the marriage, in order to prostitute the bride to them, or, by giving up his own rights, to allow them to partake with him of the nuptial bed, but rather that the marriage, being honored by them, may be rendered more sacred; so Christ does not call his ministers to the office of teaching, in order that, by conquering the Church, they may claim dominion over it, but that he may make use of their faithful labors for associating them with himself. It is a great and lofty distinction, that men are appointed over the Church, to represent the person of the Son of God. They are, therefore, like the friends whom the bridegroom brings with him, that they may accompany him in celebrating the marriage; but we must attend to the distinction, that ministers, being mindful of their rank, may not appropriate to themselves what belongs exclusively to the bridegroom The whole amounts to this, that all the eminence which teachers may possess among themselves ought not to hinder Christ from ruling alone in his Church, or from governing it alone by his word.

This comparison frequently occurs in Scripture, when the Lord intends to express the sacred bond of adoption, by which he binds us to himself. For as he offers himself to be truly enjoyed by us, that he may be ours, so he justly claims from us that mutual fidelity and love which the wife owes to her husband. This marriage is entirely fulfilled in Christ, whose flesh and bones we are, as Paul informs us, (Ephesians 5:30.) The chastity demanded by him consists chiefly in the obedience of the Gospel, that we may not suffer ourselves to be led aside from its pure simplicity, as the same Apostle teaches us, (2 Corinthians 11:2, 3.) We must, therefore, be subject to Christ alone, he must be our only Head, we must not turn aside a hair’s-breadth from the simple doctrine of the Gospel, he alone must have the highest glory, that he may retain the right and authority of being a bridegroom to us.

But what are ministers to do? Certainly, the Son of God calls them, that they may perform their duty to him in conducting the sacred marriage; and, therefore, their duty is, to take care, in every way, that the spouse — who is committed to their charge — may be presented by them as a chaste virgin to her husband; which Paul, in the passage already quoted, boasts of having done. But they who draw the Church to themselves rather than to Christ are guilty of basely violating the marriage which they ought to have honored. And the greater the honor which Christ confers on us, by making us the guardians of his spouse, so much the more heinous is our want of fidelity, if we do not endeavor to maintain and defend his right.

This my joy therefore is fulfilled. He means that he has obtained the fulfillment of all his desires, and that he has nothing further to wish, when he sees Christ reigning, and men listening to him as he deserves. Whoever shall have such affections that, laying aside all regard to himself, he shall extol Christ and be satisfied with seeing Christ honored, will be faithful and successful in ruling the Church; but, whoever shall swerve from that end in the slightest degree will be a base adulterer, and will do nothing else than corrupt the spouse of Christ.

30. He must increase. John the Baptist proceeds farther; for, having formerly been raised by the Lord to the highest dignity, he shows that this was only for a time, but now that the Sun of Righteousness, (Malachi 4:2) has arisen, he must give way; and, therefore, he not only scatters and drives away the empty fumes of honor which had been rashly and ignorantly heaped upon him by men, but also is exceedingly careful that the true and lawful honor which the Lord had bestowed on him may not obscure the glory of Christ. Accordingly, he tells us that the reason why he had been hitherto accounted a great Prophet was, that for a time only he was placed in so lofty a station, until Christ came, to whom he must surrender his office. In the meantime, he declares that he will most willingly endure to be reduced to nothing, provided that Christ occupy and fill the whole world with his rays; and this zeal of John all pastors of the Church ought to imitate by stooping with the head and shoulders to elevate Christ.

31. He who cometh from above. By another comparison he shows how widely Christ differs from all the rest, and how far he is above them; for he compares him to a king or distinguished general, who, speaking from his lofty seat, ought to be heard with reverence for his authority, but shows that it is enough for himself to speak from the lowest footstool of Christ. 6969     “Au marchepied de Christ.” In the second clause the old Latin translation has only once the words, is of the earth; but the Greek manuscripts agree in repeating the words twice. I suspect that ignorant men considered the repetition to be superfluous, and therefore erased it; but the meaning is: he who is of earth gives evidence of his descent, and remains in an earthly rank according to the condition of his nature. He maintains that it is peculiar to Christ alone to speak from above, because he came from heaven

But it may be asked, Did not John also come from heaven, as to his calling and office, and was it not therefore the duty of men to hear the Lord speaking by his mouth? For he appears to do injustice to the heavenly doctrine which he delivers. I reply, this was not said absolutely, but by comparison. If ministers be separately considered, they speak as from heaven, with the highest authority, what God commanded them; but, as soon as they begin to be contrasted with Christ, they must no longer be anything. Thus the Apostle, comparing the Law with the Gospel, says,

Since they escaped not who despised him that spoke on earth, beware lest you despise him who is from heaven,
(Hebrews 12:25.)

Christ, therefore, wishes to be acknowledged in his ministers, but in such a manner that he may remain the only Lord, and that they may be satisfied with the rank of servants; but especially when a comparison is made, he wishes to be so distinguished that he alone may be exalted.

32. And what he hath seen and heard. John proceeds in the discharge of his office; for, in order to procure disciples for Christ, he commends Christ’s doctrine as certain, because he utters nothing but what he has received from the Father. Seeing and hearing are contrasted with doubtful opinions, unfounded rumors, and every kind of falsehoods; for he means that Christ teaches nothing but what has been fully ascertained. But some one will say that little credit is due to him who has nothing but what he has heard. I reply, this word denotes that Christ has been taught by the Father, so that he brings forward nothing but what is divine, or, in other words, what has been revealed to him by God.

Now this belongs to the whole person of Christ, so far as the Father sent him into the world as His ambassador and interpreter. He afterwards charges the world with ingratitude, in basely and wickedly rejecting such an undoubted and faithful interpreter of God. In this way he meets the offense which might cause many to turn aside from the faith, and might hinder or retard the progress of many; for, as we are accustomed to depend too much on the judgment of the world, a considerable number of persons judge of the Gospel by the contempt of the world, or at least, where they see it everywhere rejected, they are prejudiced by that event, and are rendered more unwilling and more slow to believe. And, therefore, whenever we see such obstinacy in the world, let this admonition hold us in constant obedience to the Gospel, that it is truth which came from God. When he says that NO-MAN, receiveth his testimony, he means that there are very few and almost no believers, when compared with the vast crowd of unbelievers.

33. But he who receiveth his testimony. Here he exhorts and encourages the godly to embrace boldly the doctrine of the Gospel, as if he had said that there was no reason why they should be ashamed or uneasy on account of their small number, since they have God as the Author of their faith, who alone abundantly supplies to us the place of all the rest. And, therefore, though the whole world should refuse or withhold faith in the Gospel, this ought not to prevent good men from giving their assent to God. They have something on which they may safely rest, when they know that to believe the Gospel is nothing else than to assent to the truths which God has revealed. Meanwhile, we learn that it is peculiar to faith to rely on God, and to be confirmed by his words; for there can be no assent, unless God have, first of all, come forward and spoken. By this doctrine faith is not only distinguished from all human inventions, but likewise from doubtful and wavering opinions; for it must correspond to the truth of God, which is free from all doubt, and therefore, as God cannot lie, it would be absurd that faith should waver. Fortified by this defense, whatever contrivances Satan may employ in his attempts to disturb and shake us, we shall always remain victorious.

Hence, too, we are reminded how acceptable and precious a sacrifice in the sight of God faith is. As nothing is more dear to him than his truth, so we cannot render to him more acceptable worship than when we acknowledge by our faith that He is true, for then we ascribe that honor which truly belongs to him. On the other hand, we cannot offer to him a greater insult than not to believe the Gospel; for he cannot be deprived of his truth without taking away all his glory and majesty. His truth is in some sort closely linked with the Gospel, and it is his will that there it should be recognized. Unbelievers, therefore, as far as lies in their power, leave to God nothing whatever; not that their wickedness overthrows the faithfulness of God, but because they do not hesitate to charge God with falsehood. If we are not harder than stones, this lofty title by which faith is adorned ought to kindle in our minds the most ardent love of it; for how great is the honor which God confers on poor worthless men, when they, who by nature are nothing else than falsehood and vanity, are thought worthy of attesting by their signature the sacred truth of God?

34. For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God. He confirms the preceding statement, for he shows that we have actually to do with God, when we receive the doctrine of Christ; because Christ proceeded from none else than from the Heavenly Father. It is, therefore, God alone who speaks to us by him; and, indeed, we do not assign to the doctrine of Christ all that it deserves, unless we acknowledge it to be divine.

For God giveth not the Spirit by measure. This passage is explained in two ways. Some extend it to the ordinary dispensation in this manner: that God, who is the inexhaustible fountain of all benefits, does not in the least degree diminish his resources, when he largely and plentifully bestows his gifts on men. They who draw from any vessel what they give to others come at last to the bottom; but there is no danger that any thing of this sort can happen with God, nor will the abundance of his gifts ever be so large that he cannot go beyond it, whenever he shall be pleased to make a new exercise of liberality. This exposition appears to have some plausibility, for the sentence is indefinite; that is, it does not expressly point out any person. 7070     “C’est a dire, ne determine point certaine personne.”

But I am more disposed to follow Augustine, who explains that it was said concerning Christ. Nor is there any force in the objection, that no express mention is made of Christ in this clause, since all ambiguity is removed by the next clause, in which that which might seem to have been said indiscriminately about many is limited to Christ. For these words were unquestionably added for the sake of explanation, that the Father hath given all things into the hand of his Son, because he loveth him, and ought therefore to be read as placed in immediate connection. The verb in the present tense — giveth — denotes, as it were, a continued act; for though Christ was all at once endued with the Spirit in the highest perfection, yet, as he continually flows, as it were, from a source, and is widely diffused, there is no impropriety in saying that Christ now receives him from the Father. But if any one choose to interpret it more simply, it is no unusual thing that there should be a change of tenses in such verbs, and that giveth should be put for hath given 7171     “Et que Donne soit mis pour et donne.”

The meaning is now plain, that the Spirit was not given to Christ by measure, as if the power of grace which he possesses were in any way limited; as Paul teaches that

to every one is given according to the measure of the gift,
(Ephesians 4:7,)

so that there is no one who alone has full abundance. For while this is the mutual bond of brotherly intercourse between us, that no man separately considered has every thing that he needs, but all require the aid of each other, Christ differs from us in this respect, that the Father has poured out upon him an unlimited abundance of his Spirit. And, certainly, it is proper that the Spirit should dwell without measure in him, that we may all draw out of his fullness, as we have seen in the first chapter. And to this relates what immediately follows, that the Father hath given all things into his hand; for by these words John the Baptist not only declares the excellence of Christ, but, at the same time, points out the end and use of the riches with which he is endued; namely, that Christ, having been appointed by the Father to be the administrator, he distributes to every one as he chooses, and as he finds to be necessary; as Paul explains more fully in the fourth chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians, which I lately quoted. Although God enriches his own people in a variety of ways, this is peculiar to Christ alone, that he has all things in his hand


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