Ver. 2. By night. Nicodemus was at this time weak in faith, and therefore did not wish to endanger himself by coming to our Saviour in open day, when the enemies of Christ could see him. For many (as this evangelist informs us in chap. xii. v. 42,) of the chief men also believed in him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess, that they might not be cast out of the Synagogue. S. Chrys.
--- It appears from this verse that Jesus Christ wrought many miracles, even in the first year of his preaching: though not very publicly, and amidst the crowd. However, few of those which he performed in Judea are noticed by the evangelist.
Ver. 5. Unless a man be born again of water, and the Holy Ghost. Though the word Holy be now wanting in all Greek copies, it is certainly the sense. The ancient Fathers, and particularly S. Aug. in divers places, from these words, prove the necessity of giving baptism to infants: and by Christ's adding water, is excluded a metaphorical baptism. See also Acts viii. 36. and x. 47. and Titus iii. 5. Wi.
--- Except a man be born again. That is, unless you are born again by a spiritual regeneration in God, all the knowledge which you learn from me, will not be spiritual but carnal. But I say to you, that neither you nor any other person, unless you be born again in God, can undestand or conceive the glory which is in me. S. Chrys.
Ver. 8. The Spirit breatheth where he will. The Prot. translation has the wind: and so it is expounded by S. Chrys. and S. Cyril on this verse; as if Christ compared the motions of the Holy Ghost to the wind, of which men can give so little account, whence it comes, or whither it goes. Yet many others, as S. Aug. S. Amb. S. Greg. understand this expression of the Holy Ghost, of whom it can only be properly said, that he breatheth where he will. Wi.
Ver. 10. And knoweth not these things. That is, of baptism given by in a visible manner, and you understand not, how will you comprehend greater and heavenly things, if I speak of them? Wi.
--- Many passages, both in the law and the prophets, implied this doctrine of regeneration; for what else can be the meaning of the circumcision of the heart, commanded by Moses; (Deut. x. 16.) of the renewal of a clean and right spirit, prayed for by David; (Ps. l.) of God's giving his people a new heart and a new spirit. Ezech. xxxvi. 26, &c. But the Pharisees, taken up with their rites and traditions, paid little attention to spiritual things of greater moment.
Ver. 11. We speak what we know. It may perhaps be asked here, why Christ speaks in the plural number? To this we must answer, that it is the only Son of God, who is here speaking, showing us how the Father is in the Son, and the Son in the Father, and the Holy Ghost proceeding from both. S. Tho. Aquin.
Ver. 13. No man hath ascended—but he that descended from heaven, the Son of man, who is in heaven. These words, divers times repeated by our Saviour, in their literal and obvious sense, shew that Christ was in heaven, and had a being before he was born of the Virgin Mary, against the Cerinthians, &c. That he descended from heaven: that when he was made man, and conversed with men on earth, he was at the same time in heaven. Some Socinians give us here their groundless fancy, that Jesus after his baptism took a journey to heaven, and returned again before his death. Nor yet would this make him in heaven, when he spoke this to his disciples. Wi.
Ver. 14. This comparison of the serpent lifted up in the desert, upon which whoever looked was immediately cured from the bite of the fiery serpents, is a figure of the crucifixion of Christ on Calvary. And we remark, that our divine Saviour makes use of these words, the Son of man must be lifted up or exalted; (exaltari) by which form of expression he would teach us, that he does not consider the cross as a disgrace, but as a glory; (Theo. and S. Chrys.) and moreover, that as the Israelites, bitten by the fiery serpents, were cured by looking upon the brazen serpent, so are Christians cured by looking up with an active faith, replete with love and confidence, on Jesus Christ crucified.
Ver. 16-17. Give his only begotten Son—God sent not his Son into the world. He was then his Son, his only begotten Son, before he sent him into the world. He was not, therefore, his Son, only by the incarnation, but was his Son from the beginning, as he was also his word from all eternity. This was the constant doctrine of the Church, and of the Fathers, against the heresy of the Arians, that God was always Father,† and the Son always the eternal Son of the eternal Father. See note on chap. i. v. 14. Wi.
--- The world may be saved. Why, says S. Austin, is Christ called the Saviour of the world, unless from the obligation he took upon himself at his birth? He has come like a good physician, effectually to save mankind. The man, therefore, destroys himself, who refuses to follow the prescriptions of his physician. S. Aust.
[†] V. 16, 17. Aei QeoV, aei uioV; ama pathr, ama uioV. Arius began his heresy by denying this, as it appears in his letter to Eusebius, of Nicomedia, in S. Epiphan. hær. 69, p. 731.
Ver. 18. Is not judged. He that believeth, viz. by a faith working through charity, is not judged; that is, is not condemned; but the obstinate unbeliever is judged; that is, condemned already, by retrenching himself from the society of Christ and his Church. Ch.
Ver. 19. The judgment. That is, the cause of his condemnation. Ch.
Ver. 22. And baptized. Not Christ himself, but his disciples. See c. iv. 2. Wi.
Ver. 23. Salem. A town situated upon the river Jordan, where formerly Melchisedech reigned. Ven. Bede.
Ver. 29. He of whom you complain is the bridegroom, and I am the friend of the bridegroom, sent before to prepare his bride; that is, to collect for him a Church from all nations. Alcuin.
--- The servants of the bridegroom do not rejoice in the same manner as his friends: I am his friend, and I rejoice with very great joy, because of the bridegroom's voice. He must increase, and I must decrease; by which words the great precursor demonstrates to the world, that not the least envy with regard to his divine Master rankles in his heart; but on the contrary, that he should be happy to see all his followers desert him, to run to Jesus Christ. S. Chrys.
Ver. 30. He (Christ) must increase, not in virtue and perfection, with which he is replenished, but in the opinion of the world, when they begin to know him, and believe in him: and in like manner, I must be diminished, when they know how much he is above me. Wi.
Ver. 31. He that cometh from above, meaning Christ. He that is of the earth, meaning himself, is from the earth,† is earthly, is but a frail and infirm man; and so speaketh as from the earth: this seems rather the sense, than that he speaketh of, or concerning the earth. See the Greek text. Wi.
[†] V. 31. Qui est de terra, de terra est, o wn ek thV ghV, ek thV ghV esti, kai ek thV ghV lalei. et de terra loquitur.
Ver. 32. What he hath seen and heard. The meaning is not by his senses, but what he knows for certain, having the same knowledge as his eternal Father. See c. v., v. 19. And no one; i.e. but few now receive his testimony. Wi.
Ver. 33. He that hath received his testimony. These following words to the end of the chapter, seem to be the words of S. John the Baptist, rather than of the evangelist. The sense is, whosoever hath believed, and received the doctrine of Christ, hath attested as it were under his hand and seal, that God is true, and hath executed his promise concerning the Messias. Wi.
Ver. 34. Doth not give the Spirit by measure. Christ, even as man, has a plenitude of graces. See c. i. v. 14. And all things, all creatures, both in heaven and earth, are given into his hands, and made subject to him, as man. See 1 Cor. xv. 26. Wi.
Ver. 35. The Father loveth the Son. The Father loveth John, loveth Paul, yet he hath not given all things into their hands. The Father loveth the Son, not as a lord does his servants, not as an adopted Son, but as his only begotten Son; therefore hath he given all things into his hands, that as the Father is, so may the Son be. S. Austin.
Ver. 36. The divinity of the Son is in this chapter proved as clearly as in John, ep. 1, v. 7. "There are three who give testimony in heaven; the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one." Which verse is entirely omitted by Luther in his version; for which omission he is severly reproved by Keckerman. But while Catholics and Protestants deduce from this and many other places in Scripture, the divinity of Jesus Christ, as an indubitable and irrefragable consequence, how may learned Arians, Socinians, and Unitarians read the same texts, and deduce quite contrary consequences? How clearly does this prove that the Bible only cannot prove the exclusive rule of faith. With reason does the Cambridge divinity professor, Dr. Herbert Marsh, ask in his late publication on this subject, p. 18, "Are all Protestants alike in their religion? Have we not got Protestants of the Church of England, Protestants of the Church of Scotland, Protestants who hold the profession of Augsburgh? Have we not both Arminian and Calvinistic Protestants? Are not the Moravians, the Methodists, the Baptists, the Quakers, and even the Jumpers, the Dunkers, the Swedenborgians, all Protestants? Since, then Protestantism assumes so many different forms, men speak quite indefinitely, if they speak of it without explaining the particular kind wich they mean. When I hear of a Swedish or a Danish Protestant, I know that it means a person whose religion is the Bible only, as expounded by the Synod of Dort. In like manner a Protestant of the Church of England, is a person whose religion is the Bible only; but the Bible as expounded by its Liturgy and Articles. How, therefore, can we know, if we give the Bible only, what sort of Protestantism well be deduced from it?"
--- Idem ibidem, p. 21, adds, "Protestants of every description, however various and even opposite in their opinions, claim severally for themselves the honour of deducing from the Bible irrefragable and indubitable consequences. The doctrine of conditional salvation is an indubitable consequence to the Arminian. The doctrine of absolute decree, an indubitable consequence to the Calvinist. The doctrines of the trinity, the atonement and the sacraments, which the Church of England considers as indubitable consequences of the Bible, would not be so, if the Unitarians and Quakers were right in the consequences which they draw from the Bible. But the consequences which they deduce appear indubitable to them." This the professor properly styles protestantism in the abstract, or generalized, and nearly allied to apostacy from Christianity: a system, p. 16, "by which many a pilgrim has lost his way between the portal of the temple and the altar—disdaining the gate belonging only to the priests, and approaching at once the portals of the temple, they have ventured without a clue, to explore the inmost recesses; and have been bewildered in their way, till at length they have wandered to the devious passage, where Christianity itself becomes lost from the view." See his Inquiry into the consequences of neglecting to give the Prayer-Book with the Bible.