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small,—but have we any? It may grow slowly, as in the case of Nicodemus,—but does it grow at all ? Better a little grace than none! Better move slowly than stand still in sin and the world !
NOTES. JOHN VIJ. 40–53. 40.-[Many.. people...this saying, said.] The “people” here evi.
dently mean the general multitude of common people, who had come together to attend the feast, and not the chief priests and Pharisees. The “saying” which called forth their remarks, appears to be the public proclamation that our Lord had just made, inviting all thirsty souls to come to Him as the fountain of life. That any one person should so boldly announce himself as the reliever of spiritual thirst, seems to have arrested attention, and, taken in connection with the fact of our Lord's public teaching during the latter half of the feast, which many of the people must have heard, it induced them to say what immediately follows.
Brentius, Musculus, and others, hold strongly that our Lord's words in the preceding three verses must have been greatly amplified, at the time He spoke, and are in fact a sort of text or keynote to His discourse ; and that this is referred to in the expression, “this saying." Yet the supposition seems hardly necessary. The words were a conclusion to three days' teaching and preaching.
of a truth this man... Prophet.] This would be more literally rendered, “This man is truly and really the Prophet.” These speakers meant that He must be “the Prophet " like unto Moses,
foretold in Deuteronomy. (Deut. xviii. 15, 18.) 41. -Others said, This is the Christ.] These speakers saw in our
Lord the Messiah, or Anointed Saviour, whom all pious Jews were eagerly expecting at this period, and whose appearing the whole nation were looking for in one way or another, though the most part expected nothing more than a temporal Redeemer. (Psalm xlv. 7; Isaiah lxi. 1; Dan. ix. 25, 26.) Even the Samaritan woman could say, “I know that Messiah cometh.” (John iv. 25.)
(But some said, Shall Christ.. Galilee?] This ought to have been rendered, “But others said.” It was not a few exceptional speakers only, but a party probably as large as any. They raised the objection, which was not unnatural, that this new teacher and preacher, however wonderful He might be, was notoriously a Galilean, of Nazareth, and therefore could not be the promised
Messiah. How utterly ignorant most persons were of our Lord's
birth.place, we see here, as elsewhere. 42.-[Hath not the Scripture said, etc.] We should note in this verse
the clear knowledge which most Jews in our Lord's time had of Scripture prophecies and promises. Even the common people knew that Messiah was to be of the family of David, and to be born at Bethlehem, the well-known birth-place of David. It may indeed be feared that myriads of Christians know far less of the
Bible than the Jews did eighteen hundred years ago 43.- [So... division among ... people because of Him.] Here we see
our Lord's words literally fulfilled.-He did not bring “peace, but division.” (Luke xii. 51.) It will always be so as long as the world stands. So long as human nature is corrupt, Christ will be a cause of division and difference among men. To some He is a savour of life, and to others of death. Grace and nature never will agree any more than oil and water, acid and alkali. A state of entire quiet, and the absence of any religious division, is often no good sign of the condition of a Church or a parish. It may even be a symptom of spiritual disease and death. The question may pos
sibly be needful in such cases, “Is Christ there?” 44.-[And some...would...taken Him.] This would be more satis
factorily rendered, “Some out of those" who made up the crowd f'were desirous and wished to take our Lord prisoner.”—These were no doubt the friends and adherents of the Pharisees, and very likely were the common people who dwelt at Jerusalem, and knew well what their leaders wanted to do.
[No man laid hands on Him.] This must be accounted for primarily by the divine restraint which was at present laid on our Lord's enemies, because His hour was not yet come ;-and secondarily by the fear in which the Pharisees' party evidently stood of a rising in our Lord's defence on the part of the Galileans, and others who had come up to the feast. Thus we read that at the last Passover “the priests and Scribes sought how they might kill Him, for they feared the people.” (Luke xxii. 2.) Again : “They said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar of the
people.” (Mark xiv. 2, and Matt. xxvi. 5.) 45.—[Then came the officers, etc.] It is not clear what interval of
time elapsed between verse 32nd, where we read that the officers were sent by the priests to take our Lord, and the present verse where we are told of their coming back to their masters. - At first sight of course it all happened in one day. Yet if we observe that between the sending them to take our Lord, and the present verse, there comes in the remarkable verse, “In the last day, that great day of the feast,” it seems impossible to avoid the conclusion, that an interval of two or three days must have elapsed.-It seems highly probable that the officers had a general commission and warrant to take our Lord prisoner, whenever they saw a fitting opportunity, about the fourth day of the feast. They found however no opportunity, on account of the temper and spirit of the crowd, and dared not make the attempt. And at last, at the end of the feast, when the multitude was even more aroused than at first, by our Lord's open testimony, they were obliged to return to those who sent them, and confess their
inability to carry out their orders. 46.- [The officers answered, etc.] The answer of the officers has
probably a double application. They themselves felt the power of our Lord's speaking. They had never heard any man speak like this man. It tied their hands, and made them feel incapable of doing anything against Him.—They had besides marked the power of His speaking over the minds of the multitude which gathered round Him. They had never seen any one exercise such an influence over His hearers. They felt it useless to attempt arresting one who had such complete command over His audience. We cannot doubt that they had heard much more “speaking” than the few things recorded between verses 32nd and 46th. These are only specimens of what our Lord said, and furnish a keynote to us indicating the general tenor of His teaching.
What it was precisely that the officers meant when they said “Never man spake like this man," we are left to conjecture. They probably meant that they had never heard any one speak such deep and important truths—in such simple and yet striking language—and in so solemn, impressive, and yet affectionate style. Above all, they probably meant that He spake with a dignified tone of authority, as a messenger from heaven, to which they were
entirely unaccustomed. 47.-[Then answered them .Pharisees ... ye...deceived ?] The word
rendered “ deceived” means, literally, “led astray, or caused to err.” Have you too been carried off by this new teaching? The
question implies anger, sarcasm, ridicule, and displeasure. 48.—[Have any...rulers ..Pharisees believed on him?] This arrogant
question was doubtless meant to be an unanswerable proof that our Lord could not possibly be the Messiah :-“Can a person be deserving of the least credit, as a teacher of a new religion, if those who are the most learned and highest in position do not
believe Him?”—This is precisely the common argument of human nature in every age. The doctrine which the great and learned do not receive is always assumed to be wrong. And yet St. Paul says, “Not many wise, not many noble are called.” (1 Cor. i. 26.) The very possession of rank and learning is often a positive hindrance to a man's soul. The great and the learned are often the last and most unwilling to receive Christ's truth.—“How hardly shall a rich man enter the kingdom of God.” (Matt. xix. 23.)
It seems clear from this that at present the Pharisees did not know that one of their own number, Nicodemus, was favourably
disposed to our Lord. 49.- but this people...knoweth not law...cursed.] This sentence is
full of contempt and scorn throughout. “This people,”-a mob, —a common herd,—“which knoweth not the law,” is not deeply read in the Scriptures, and have no deep Rabbinical learning, " are cursed,” are under God's curse and given over to a strong delusion. Their opinion is worthless, and what they think of the new Galilean teacher is of no moment or value.-Charges like these have been made in every age, against the adherents of all reformers and revivers of true religion. The multitude who followed Luther in Germany, our own Reformers in England, and the leaders of revived religion in the last century, were always attacked as ignorant enthusiasts whose opinion was worth nothing. When the enemies of vital religion cannot prevent people flocking after the Gospel, and cannot answer the teaching of its advocates, they often fight with the weapons of the Pharisees in this verse. They content themselves with the cheap and easy assertion that those who do not agree with themselves, are ignorant and know nothing, and that therefore it matters nothing what they think. Yet St. Paul says, “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise ; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty." (1 Cor. i. 27.) The poorer and humbler classes are often much better judges of “what is truth” in religion than the great and learned.
The disposition of the Jews to pronounce those “accursed” who differed from themselves in religious controversy, is exhibited in this verse. Jewish converts to Christianity in modern times are
often sadly familiar with cursing from their own relatives. 50.--[Nicodemus... he...came to Jesus by night.] This would be more
literally rendered, “He that came to Him by night.” The omission of our Lord's name here is very peculiar. — The fact of Nicodemus having come to see Jesus “by night” is always men. tioned by St. John, where His name occurs. (See John xix. 39.) It is to my mind a strong proof that he was a coward when he first came to our Lord, and dared not come openly by day.
[Being one of them.] This means that he was a chief man, or ruler among the Pharisees, and as such was present at all their deliberations and counsels. His case shows that the grace of God can reach men in any position, however unfavourable it may be to true religion. Even a chief Pharisee, one of that company of men who, as a body, hated our Lord and longed to kill Him, could believe and speak up for Him. We must never conclude hastily that there can be no Christians among a body of men, because the great majority of them hate Christ, and are hardened in wickedness. There was a Lot in Sodom, an Obadiah in Ahab's house, a Daniel in Babylon, saints in Nero's palace, and a Nicodemus among the Pharisees. He was “one out of their number,”
but not one of them in spirit. 51.- [Doth our law judge any man, etc.] This was undoubtedly
speaking up for our Lord, and pleading for His being treated justly and fairly, and according to law. At first sight it seems a very tame and cautious mode of showing his faith, if he had any. But it is difficult to see what more could have been said in the present temper of the Pharisees. Nicodemus wisely appealed to law, “Is it not a great principle of that law of Moses, which we all profess to honour, that no man should be condemned without first hearing from him what defence he can make, and without clear knowledge and evidence as to what he has really done? Is it fair and legal to condemn this person before you have heard from His own lips what He can say in His defence, and before you know from the testimony of competent witnesses what He has really done? -Are you not flying in the face of our law by hastily judging His case, and setting Him down as a malefactor before you have given Him a chance of clearing Himself ?” (See Deut. i. 17, and xvii. 8, etc., and xix. 15, etc.) Nicodemus, it will be observed, cautiously takes up his ground on broad general principles of universal application, and does not say a word about our Lord's particular case.
The Greek words would be more literally rendered, “Doth our law condemn the man unless it hears from him first."
I think there can be no reasonable doubt that these words show Nicodemus to have become a real, though a slow-growing disciple of Christ, and a true believer. It required great courage to do even the little that he did here, and to say what he said.