Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible

John Ch.3 / 21 Ch.s


* Christ's discourse with Nicodemus. (1-21) The baptism of John
of Christ John's testimony. (22-36)

#1-8 Nicodemus was afraid, or ashamed to be seen with Christ,
therefore came in the night. When religion is out of fashion,
there are many Nicodemites. But though he came by night, Jesus
bid him welcome, and hereby taught us to encourage good
beginnings, although weak. And though now he came by night, yet
afterward he owned Christ publicly. He did not talk with Christ
about state affairs, though he was a ruler, but about the
concerns of his own soul and its salvation, and went at once to
them. Our Saviour spoke of the necessity and nature of
regeneration or the new birth, and at once directed Nicodemus to
the source of holiness of the heart. Birth is the beginning of
life; to be born again, is to begin to live anew, as those who
have lived much amiss, or to little purpose. We must have a new
nature, new principles, new affections, new aims. By our first
birth we were corrupt, shapen in sin; therefore we must be made
new creatures. No stronger expression could have been chosen to
signify a great and most remarkable change of state and
character. We must be entirely different from what we were
before, as that which begins to be at any time, is not, and
cannot be the same with that which was before. This new birth is
from heaven, ch. #1:13|, and its tendency is to heaven. It is a
great change made in the heart of a sinner, by the power of the
Holy Spirit. It means that something is done in us, and for us,
which we cannot do for ourselves. Something is wrong, whereby
such a life begins as shall last for ever. We cannot otherwise
expect any benefit by Christ; it is necessary to our happiness
here and hereafter. What Christ speak, Nicodemus misunderstood,
as if there had been no other way of regenerating and
new-moulding an immortal soul, than by new-framing the body. But
he acknowledged his ignorance, which shows a desire to be better
informed. It is then further explained by the Lord Jesus. He
shows the Author of this blessed change. It is not wrought by
any wisdom or power of our own, but by the power of the blessed
Spirit. We are shapen in iniquity, which makes it necessary that
our nature be changed. We are not to marvel at this; for, when
we consider the holiness of God, the depravity of our nature,
and the happiness set before us, we shall not think it strange
that so much stress is laid upon this. The regenerating work of
the Holy Spirit is compared to water. It is also probable that
Christ had reference to the ordinance of baptism. Not that all
those, and those only, that are baptized, are saved; but without
that new birth which is wrought by the Spirit, and signified by
baptism, none shall be subjects of the kingdom of heaven. The
same word signifies both the wind and the Spirit. The wind
bloweth where it listeth for us; God directs it. The Spirit
sends his influences where, and when, on whom, and in what
measure and degree, he pleases. Though the causes are hidden,
the effects are plain, when the soul is brought to mourn for
sin, and to breathe after Christ. Christ's stating of the
doctrine and the necessity of regeneration, it should seem, made
it not clearer to Nicodemus. Thus the things of the Spirit of
God are foolishness to the natural man. Many think that cannot
be proved, which they cannot believe. Christ's discourse of
gospel truths, ver. #11-13|, shows the folly of those who make
these things strange unto them; and it recommends us to search
them out. Jesus Christ is every way able to reveal the will of
God to us; for he came down from heaven, and yet is in heaven.
We have here a notice of Christ's two distinct natures in one
person, so that while he is the Son of man, yet he is in heaven.
God is the "HE THAT IS," and heaven is the dwelling-place of his
holiness. The knowledge of this must be from above, and can be
received by faith alone. Jesus Christ came to save us by healing
us, as the children of Israel, stung with fiery serpents, were
cured and lived by looking up to the brazen serpent, #Nu
21:6-9|. In this observe the deadly and destructive nature of
sin. Ask awakened consciences, ask damned sinners, they will
tell you, that how charming soever the allurements of sin may
be, at the last it bites like a serpent. See the powerful remedy
against this fatal malady. Christ is plainly set forth to us in
the gospel. He whom we offended is our Peace, and the way of
applying for a cure is by believing. If any so far slight either
their disease by sin, or the method of cure by Christ, as not to
receive Christ upon his own terms, their ruin is upon their own
heads. He has said, Look and be saved, look and live; lift up
the eyes of your faith to Christ crucified. And until we have
grace to do this, we shall not be cured, but still are wounded
with the stings of Satan, and in a dying state. Jesus Christ
came to save us by pardoning us, that we might not die by the
sentence of the law. Here is gospel, good news indeed. Here is
God's love in giving his Son for the world. God so loved the
world; so really, so richly. Behold and wonder, that the great
God should love such a worthless world! Here, also, is the great
gospel duty, to believe in Jesus Christ. God having given him to
be our Prophet, Priest, and King, we must give up ourselves to
be ruled, and taught, and saved by him. And here is the great
gospel benefit, that whoever believes in Christ, shall not
perish, but shall have everlasting life. God was in Christ
reconciling the world to himself, and so saving it. It could not
be saved, but through him; there is no salvation in any other.
From all this is shown the happiness of true believers; he that
believeth in Christ is not condemned. Though he has been a great
sinner, yet he is not dealt with according to what his sins
deserve. How great is the sin of unbelievers! God sent One to
save us, that was dearest to himself; and shall he not be
dearest to us? How great is the misery of unbelievers! they are
condemned already; which speaks a certain condemnation; a
present condemnation. The wrath of God now fastens upon them;
and their own hearts condemn them. There is also a condemnation
grounded on their former guilt; they are open to the law for all
their sins; because they are not by faith interested in the
gospel pardon. Unbelief is a sin against the remedy. It springs
from the enmity of the heart of man to God, from love of sin in
some form. Read also the doom of those that would not know
Christ. Sinful works are works of darkness. The wicked world
keep as far from this light as they can, lest their deeds should
be reproved. Christ is hated, because sin is loved. If they had
not hated saving knowledge, they would not sit down contentedly
in condemning ignorance. On the other hand, renewed hearts bid
this light welcome. A good man acts truly and sincerely in all
he does. He desires to know what the will of God is, and to do
it, though against his own worldly interest. A change in his
whole character and conduct has taken place. The love of God is
shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost, and is become the
commanding principle of his actions. So long as he continues
under a load of unforgiven guilt, there can be little else than
slavish fear of God; but when his doubts are done away, when he
sees the righteous ground whereon this forgiveness is built, he
rests on it as his own, and is united to God by unfeigned love.
Our works are good when the will of God is the rule of them, and
the glory of God the end of them; when they are done in his
strength, and for his sake; to him, and not to men.
Regeneration, or the new birth, is a subject to which the world
is very averse; it is, however, the grand concern, in comparison
with which every thing else is but trifling. What does it
signify though we have food to eat in plenty, and variety of
raiment to put on, if we are not born again? if after a few
mornings and evenings spent in unthinking mirth, carnal
pleasure, and riot, we die in our sins, and lie down in sorrow?
What does it signify though we are well able to act our parts in
life, in every other respect, if at last we hear from the
Supreme Judge, "Depart from me, I know you not, ye workers of

#22-36 John was fully satisfied with the place and work assigned
him; but Jesus came on a more important work. He also knew that
Jesus would increase in honour and influence, for of his
government and peace there would be no end, while he himself
would be less followed. John knew that Jesus came from heaven as
the Son of God, while he was a sinful, mortal man, who could
only speak about the more plain subjects of religion. The words
of Jesus were the words of God; he had the Spirit, not by
measure, as the prophets, but in all fulness. Everlasting life
could only be had by faith in Him, and might be thus obtained;
whereas all those, who believe not in the Son of God, cannot
partake of salvation, but the wrath of God for ever rests upon