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"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.
"That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
"For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
"He that believeth in him is not condemned, but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
"And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
"For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
"But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest that they are wrought in God."-JOHN iii. 14-21.
THESE verses, my fellow-citizens, are golden sentences. They are of more value than all the wise sayings of the ancients. In our sorrow-smitten and worrying world they are the unfailing fountains of peace and joy. They are the utterances of Him who came "to seek and save that which was lost;" who said "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." The speaker is the Lord Jesus Christ. His
auditor was a Hebrew ruler, who was looking for a Messiah who should be a great temporal prince-not for a Saviour; looking not for a personal salvation from guilt, but for a national deliverance from the Roman yoke. Hearing of the miracles of Jesus, and being no doubt of a candid and inquiring mind, Nicodemus came to him to have some private conversation with him respecting the Kingdom of God. He was looking for the Messiah, not from Nazareth, but from Bethlehem; not in the person of an obscure Galilean stranger, but in an acknowledged descendant of the ancient royal house of David. And though the Nazarene did not fulfill his expectations of a Messiah, he probably thought he could give some information concerning him; for both he and John had preached that the kingdom of God was at hand. His opening address was ingenious and complimentary, but our Lord, instead of being flattered by it, or even permitting him to unfold the purpose of his visit, addressed him with astonishing emphasis on the subject of the new birth, and of a personal interest in religion. These things ought not to have been new to Nicodemus, as he was a teacher in Israel and a member of the Sanhedrim. He was, however, amazed at them, and at our Lord's simple earnestness. Hence Jesus repeated his statement and amplified it, by unfolding the gracious economy of the gospel, of the true nature of the Kingdom which the Father had sent him into the world to establish.
I. Observe the designation that is here given of the Messiah. He is the only begotten Son of God, and He is the Son of Man; and He is sent by the Father. The Redeemer of sinners is "the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was and continues to be, God and Man, in two distinct realities and one person forever." The designation in the text is an obvious reference to the Second Psalm, which is a prophecy of the Messiah. The terms are used figuratively, and by way of condescension to human understandings. The term "son" ordinarily suggests the idea of derivation of being, posterity, inferiority, mutual affection, and yet identity of nature. But the term Son as applied to the Messiah, signifies that He executes the office of a son in obeying his Father's will. And as a father loves his son-especially an only son-so is Christ, the Messiah, the object of the Supreme love of God the Father. The main idea of the passage certainly is the sovereign, amazing love of God to the world, as shown in the gift of His Son to be the Saviour of sinners. Christ the Messiah is also called the Son of Man. This appellation is employed by our Lord more frequently than any other, in speaking of himself, whether in public or in private, in the midst of his friends or his enemies. "Christ, the Son of God, became man, by taking to himself a true body and a reasonable soul; being conceived by the power
of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and born of her, yet without sin." "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt with us"-" God was manifest in the flesh." Christ was truly man, having a true body, spirit, and soul like our own, except that he was free from all sin. The phrase "Son of Man" is a well-known Hebraism for man. We have an instance of this in the fourth verse of Ps. viii.: "What is man, that thou art mindful of him." And the parallel and equivalent line is" and the son of man, that thou visitest him?" The appellation "the Son of Man" marks at once the Messiah as truly a man, and at the same time, as distinguished from all other men. He is so distinguished in a variety of ways-as the Son of Man. He is the perfect, the normal man-the representative man--the second Adam-the Lord from heaven-the God-man mediator-God manifest in the flesh, and the predicted man like unto Mosesthe Messiah of the Old Testament prophecy. And he is sent of the Father. "God sent His Son"-"He gave His only Son." God did not leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery, whereunto our first parents fell by transgression; but out of His mere good pleasure, by the gift of His Son, He has brought all who truly believe in Him into an estate of salvation. In the great economy of human redemption, the Father sustains the majesty of Divinity. He is the fountain of authority-the source of judgment and of mercy. He is just, and yet the justifier of them that believe in His Son, the great Redeemer. While the Son and the Father are essentially one, in the economy of grace, they sustain two offices, and the Father is greater than the Son. The Father invests the Son with the character of Mediator, and sends him forth on his mission, and promises him his reward. When, therefore, the Father is said to have sent the Son, the meaning is, that Jesus was divinely authorized and commissioned to act as the Saviour of the world; to do and suffer all that was necessary for the attainment of the salvation of man, in accordance with the perfections of the Divine character and the principles of the Divine govern
II. The origin of the economy of Divine mercy is here declared to be the love of God. It is an error of very serious magnitude to represent God as a being of resentments so fierce that nothing could mitigate them but the tears and prayers, the blood and death of His only Son. This is the view of the Divine character we are frequently charged with holding. But this is not true. It is not the compassion or pity of God that is purchased by the death of Christ, but the souls of men. He laid down his life as a ransom for us. The text says positively that "God so loved the world." The primary source of salvation is the love of God, who is rich in mercy. He was self
moved to show mercy. All His motives to love us were found in His own perfect benignity. Christ did not die that God might love man. He died because God loved man. "God commendeth His love to us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. "In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world that we might live through him." "Herein is love; not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiator of our sins." The atonement, then, is not the cause, but the effect of the love of God. The Supreme Being was under no necessity to provide salvation for us. Our goodness extendeth not to Him. His revenue of glory would have been forever complete without us. Nor was there anything in us to merit such an interposition of mercy. God, as the self-existing, all-sufficient, and Almighty Creator, traveled not out of Himself for a motive. He loved us because He would, and He sent His Son to redeem us, and so to redeem us as to magnify His law, and harmonize justice, truth, and holiness, with the exercise of mercy to the penitent and believing. As man had violated the divine law, he was liable to the dreadful consequences of transgression. He had sinned, and he deserved to die. To all created beings his fate seemed fixed. But God, who is rich in mercy, devised a plan by which the evil of sin might be exhibited to the intelligent universe in a light far stronger than if the whole race of man had perished forever, and yet the violators of His law He saved with an everlasting salvation.
This plan was to send His own Son to take our place, to suffer and die for us. He made His Son, who knew no sin, to be a sinoffering for us, "that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." "God laid on him the iniquities of us all." "God hath set forth His Son to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins, that he might be just, and yet the justifier of him that believes in Jesus;" that he might indeed be a "just God, and a Saviour." It was to rescue us from perdition, to renew our natures, and give us a fitness for heaven, that "God spared not His own Son, but delivered him up" as a victim in our room and for our transgressions. He was wounded for our iniquities, and the chastisement of our peace was on him. If it were a strong proof of Abraham's love to God, that he did not withhold his son, his only son Isaac, how shall we estimate the love of God to our lost world, in giving up His only begotten and well-beloved Son to be a sacrifice and an offering for our salvation.
III. The next topic in the text is the great design of Christ's coming into the world. It was not to condemn the world. He came not to destroy the Gentiles, as the Jews thought the Messiah would do; but to save both Jews and Gentiles, who would
believe in him. Jewish teachers expected that Messiah would punish the heathen nations, when he came for the deliverance of their own people. It was, however, not to condemn, but to save the world that God sent his Son. He came not to destroy men's lives, but to save them from the evils of sin-to deliver them from ignorance and error, and guilt and depravity and wretchedness, in all their various forms. Messiah's great mission is described here both negatively and positively negatively, "not to condemn"-"that the world may not perish"-that as sinners men may not fall under the awful consequences of their transgressions. As the whole world lieth in wickedness; as the wages of sin is death; as men are alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them. As they are by nature sunk in ignorance and moral pollution, so they must sink deeper and deeper in guilt and depravity and misery, unless, some remedy is offered. This remedy is the mission of the Son of God into our world. He came to deliver men--not one particular nation, but men of every nation, from the tremendous aggregation of evils consequent upon rebellion against God. And hence, positively God sent his Son that the world might have life" that the world through him might be saved." The object of his death is not merely to deliver us from sin, but to raise us to holiness; not merely to rescue us from perdition, but to place us in heaven; not merely to save us from perdition, but to redeem us to God, and to make us holy and happy forever. The design of Messiah's mission was therefore wholly different in three most important points from what the Jews expected. Punishment was not at all the object of the Messiah's coming. The deliverance which he came to effect was not secular, but spiritual, and it was intended, not for the nation of the Jews exclusively, but for mankind generally. The object of his mission was purely merciful. His salvation had a direct reference to the soul and eternity.
IV. And what, my beloved hearers, were the great means by which the design of Messiah's mission was to be accomplished? Two clauses in the text point out these means: "God gave his Son"-" and as Moses," &c. The first of these is literal, and the second is figurative. "God gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him might not perish, but have everlasting life." This is a literal statement of facts; and here again our Lord corrects the false views generally entertained by the Jews. They expected that the Messiah was to accomplish the deliverance of Israel, and the destruction of the nations, by being exalted or "lifted up" elevated first to the throne of David, his father, and then to the throne of the world. Now, says our Lord, it is true, Messiah shall be lifted up; but he shall be lifted up in a very different way from what