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1. A ruler - One of the great council.
2. The same came - Through desire; but by night - Through shame: We know - Even we rulers and Pharisees.
3. Jesus answered - That knowledge will not avail thee unless thou be born again - Otherwise thou canst not see, that is, experience and enjoy, either the inward or the glorious kingdom of God. In this solemn discourse our Lord shows, that no external profession, no ceremonial ordinances or privileges of birth, could entitle any to the blessings of the Messiah's kingdom: that an entire change of heart as well as of life was necessary for that purpose: that this could only be wrought in man by the almighty power of God: that every man born into the world was by nature in a state of sin, condemnation, and misery: that the free mercy of God had given his Son to deliver them from it, and to raise them to a blessed immortality: that all mankind, Gentiles as well as Jews, might share in these benefits, procured by his being lifted up on the cross, and to be received by faith in him: but that if they rejected him, their eternal, aggravated condemnation, would be the certain consequence. Except a man be born again - If our Lord by being born again means only reformation of life, instead of making any new discovery, he has only thrown a great deal of obscurity on what was before plain and obvious.
4. When he is old - As Nicodemus himself was.
5. Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit - Except he experience that great inward change by the Spirit, and be baptized (wherever baptism can be had) as the outward sign and means of it.
6. That which is born of the flesh is flesh - Mere flesh, void of the Spirit, yea, at enmity with it; And that which is born of the Spirit is spirit - Is spiritual, heavenly, divine, like its Author.
7. Ye must be born again - To be born again, is to be inwardly changed from all sinfulness to all holiness. It is fitly so called, because as great a change then passes on the soul as passes on the body when it is born into the world.
8. The wind bloweth - According to its own nature, not thy will, and thou hearest the sound thereof - Thou art sure it doth blow, but canst not explain the particular manner of its acting. So is every one that is born of the Spirit - The fact is plain, the manner of his operations inexplicable.
11. We speak what we know - I and all that believe in me.
12. Earthly things - Things done on earth; such as the new birth, and the present privileges of the children of God. Heavenly things - Such as the eternity of the Son, and the unity of the Father, Son, and Spirit.
13. For no one - For here you must rely on my single testimony, whereas there you have a cloud of witnesses: Hath gone up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven. Who is in heaven - Therefore he is omnipresent; else he could not be in heaven and on earth at once. This is a plain instance of what is usually termed the communication of properties between the Divine and human nature; whereby what is proper to the Divine nature is spoken concerning the human, and what is proper to the human is, as here, spoken of the Divine.
14. And as Moses - And even this single witness will soon be taken from you; yea, and in a most ignominious manner. Num. xxi, 8, 9.
15. That whosoever - He must be lifted up, that hereby he may purchase salvation for all believers: all those who look to him by faith recover spiritual health, even as all that looked at that serpent recovered bodily health.
16. Yea, and this was the very design of God's love in sending him into the world. Whosoever believeth on him - With that faith which worketh by love, and hold fast the beginning of his confidence steadfast to the end. God so loved the world - That is, all men under heaven; even those that despise his love, and will for that cause finally perish. Otherwise not to believe would be no sin to them. For what should they believe? Ought they to believe that Christ was given for them? Then he was given for them. He gave his only Son - Truly and seriously. And the Son of God gave himself, Gal. iv, 4, truly and seriously.
17. God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world - Although many accuse him of it.
18. He that believeth on him is not condemned - Is acquitted, is justified before God. The name of the only-begotten Son of God - The name of a person is often put for the person himself. But perhaps it is farther intimated in that expression, that the person spoken of is great and magnificent. And therefore it is generally used to express either God the Father or the Son.
19. This is the condemnation - That is, the cause of it. So God is clear.
21. He that practiceth the truth (that is, true religion) cometh to the light - So even Nicodemus, afterward did. Are wrought in God - That is, in the light, power, and love of God.
22. Jesus went - From the capital city, Jerusalem, into the land of Judea - That is, into the country. There he baptized - Not himself; but his disciples by his order, chap. iv, 2.
23. John also was baptizing - He did not repel them that offered, but he more willingly referred them to Jesus.
25. The Jews - Those men of Judea, who now went to be baptized by Jesus; and John's disciples, who were mostly of Galilee: about purifying - That is, baptism. They disputed, which they should be baptized by.
27. A man can receive nothing - Neither he nor I. Neither could he do this, unless God had sent him: nor can I receive the title of Christ, or any honour comparable to that which he hath received from heaven. They seem to have spoken with jealousy and resentment; John answers with sweet composure of spirit.
29. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom - He whom the bride follows. But all men now come to Jesus. Hence it is plain he is the bridegroom. The friend who heareth him - Talk with the bride; rejoiceth greatly - So far from envying or resenting it.
30. He must increase, but I must decrease - So they who are now, like John, burning and shining lights, must (if not suddenly eclipsed) like him gradually decrease, while others are increasing about them; as they in their turns grew up, amidst the decays of the former generation. Let us know how to set, as well as how to rise; and let it comfort our declining days to trace, in those who are likely to succeed us in our work, the openings of yet greater usefulness.
31. It is not improbable, that what is added, to the end of the chapter, are the words of the evangelist, not the Baptist. He that is of the earth - A mere man; of earthly original, has a spirit and speech answerable to it.
32. No man - None comparatively, exceeding few; receiveth his testimony - With true faith.
33. Hath set to his seal - It was customary among the Jews for the witness to set his seal to the testimony he had given. That God is true - Whose words the Messiah speaks.
34. God giveth not him the Spirit by measure - As he did to the prophets, but immeasurably. Hence he speaketh the words of God in the most perfect manner.
36. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life - He hath it already. For he loves God. And love is the essence of heaven. He that obeyeth not - a consequence of not believing.
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