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Lords Day 34, 2009

I was glad when they said to me, Let us go to the house of the Lord.

The true AARON    Lev. viii. 79.
by John Newton (17251807)

SEE Aaron, Gods anointed priest,

Within the veil appear;
In robes of mystic meaning dressed,

Presenting Israels prayr.

The plate of gold which crowns his brows,
image   His holiness describes;
His breast displays, in shining rows,
   The names of all the tribes.

With the atoning blood he stands,
   Before the mercyseat;
And clouds of incense from his hands,
   Arise with odour sweet.

Urim and Thummim near his heart,
   In rich engravings worn;
The sacred light of truth impart,
   To teach and to adorn.

Thro him the eye of faith descries,
   A greater Priest than he;
Thus Jesus pleads above the skies,
   For you, my friends, and me.

He bears the names of all his saints,
   Deep on his heart engravd;
Attentive to the state and wants
   Of all his love has savd.

In him a holiness complete,
   Light and perfections shine;
And wisdom, grace, and glory meet;
   A Saviour all divine.

The blood, which as a Priest he bears
   For sinners, is his own
The incense of his prayrs and tears
   Perfume the holy throne.

In him my weary soul has rest,
   Tho I am weak and vile
I read my name upon his breast,
   And see the Father smile.

—from Olney Hymns. Book I: On select Passages of Scripture.

imageJohn 3:921

Nicodemus said to Him, How can these things be? 10 Jesus answered and said to him, Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. 12 If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. 14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.

16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.

imageWe have in these verses the second part of the conversation between our Lord Jesus Christ and Nicodemus. A lesson about regeneration is closely followed by a lesson about justification! The whole passage ought always to be read with affectionate reverence. It contains words which have brought eternal life to myriads of souls.

These verses show us, firstly, what gross spiritual ignorance there may be in the mind of a great and learned man. We see a master of Israel unacquainted with the first elements of saving religion. Nicodemus is told about the new birth, and at once exclaims, How can these things be? When such was the darkness of a Jewish teacher, what must have been the state of the Jewish people? It was indeed due time for Christ to appear! The pastors of Israel had ceased to feed the people with knowledge. The blind were leading the blind, and both were falling into the ditch. (Matt. xv. 14.)

Ignorance like that of Nicodemus is unhappily far too common in the Church of Christ. We must never be surprised if we find it in quarters where we might reasonably expect knowledge. Learning, and rank, and high ecclesiastical office are no proof that a minister is taught by the Spirit. The successors of Nicodemus, in every age, are far more numerous than the successors of St. Peter. On no point is religious ignorance so common as on the work of the Holy Ghost. That old stumbling-block, at which Nicodemus stumbled, is as much an offence to thousands in the present day as it was in the days of Christ. The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God. (1 Cor. ii. 14.) Happy is he who has been taught to prove all things by Scripture, and to call no man master upon earth. (1 Thess. v. 21; Matt. xxiii. 9.)

These verses show us, secondly, the original source from which mans salvation springs. That source is the love of God the Father. Our Lord says to Nicodemus, God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

This wonderful verse has been justly called by Luther, The Bible in miniature. No part of it, perhaps, is so deeply important as the first five words, God so loved the world. The love here spoken of is not that special love with which the Father regards His own elect, but that mighty pity and compassion with which He regards the whole race of mankind. Its object is not merely the little flock which He has given to Christ from all eternity, but the whole world of sinners, without any exception. There is a deep sense in which God loves that world. All whom He has created He regards with pity and compassion. Their sins He cannot love;but He loves their souls. His tender mercies are over all His works. (Psal. cxlv. 9.) Christ is Gods gracious gift to the whole world.

Let us take heed that our views of the love of God are Scriptural and well-defined. The subject is one on which error abounds on either side.On the one hand we must beware of vague and exaggerated opinions. We must maintain firmly that God hates wickedness, and that the end of all who persist in wickedness will be destruction. It is not true that Gods love is lower than hell. It is not true that God so loved the world that all mankind will be finally saved, but that He so loved the world that He gave His Son to be the Saviour of all who believe. His love is offered to all men freely, fully, honestly, and unreservedly, but it is only through the one channel of Christs redemption. He that rejects Christ cuts himself off from Gods love, and will perish everlastingly.On the other hand, we must beware of narrow and contracted opinions. We must not hesitate to tell any sinner that God loves him. It is not true that God cares for none but His own elect, or that Christ is not offered to any but those who are ordained to eternal life. There is a kindness and love in God towards all mankind. It was in consequence of that love that Christ came into the world, and died upon the cross. Let us not be wise above that which is written, or more systematic in our statements than Scripture itself. God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. God is not willing that any should perish. God would have all men to be saved. God loves the world. (John v. 32; Titus iii. 4; 1 John iv. 10; 2 Pet. iii. 9; 1 Tim. ii. 4; Ezek. xxxiii. 11.)

These verses show us, thirdly, the peculiar plan by which the love of God has provided salvation for sinners. That plan is the atoning death of Christ on the cross. Our Lord says to Nicodemus, 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.

By being lifted up, our Lord meant nothing less than His own death upon the cross. That death, He would have us know, was appointed by God to be the life of the world. (John vi. 51.) It was ordained from all eternity to be the great propitiation and satisfaction for mans sin. It was the payment, by an Almighty Substitute and Representative, of mans enormous debt to God. When Christ died upon the cross, our many sins were laid upon Him. He was made sin for us. He was made a curse for us. (2 Cor. v. 21; Gal. iii. 13.) By His death He purchased pardon and complete redemption for sinners. The bronze serpent, lifted up in the camp of Israel, brought health and cure within the reach of all who were bitten by the snakes. Christ crucified, in like manner, brought eternal life within reach of lost mankind. Christ has been lifted up on the cross, and man looking to Him by faith may be saved.

The truth before us is the very foundation-stone of the Christian religion. Christs death is the Christians life. Christs cross is the Christians title to heaven. Christ lifted up and put to shame on Calvary is the ladder by which Christians enter into the holiest, and are at length landed in glory. It is true that we are sinners;but Christ has suffered for us. It is true that we deserve death;but Christ has died for us. It is true that we are guilty debtors;but Christ has paid our debts with His own blood. This is the real Gospel! This is the good news! On this let us lean while we live. To this let us cling when we die. Christ has been lifted up on the cross, and has thrown open the gates of heaven to all believers.

These verses show us, fourthly, the way in which the benefits of Christs death are made our own. That way is simply to put faith and trust in Christ. Faith is the same thing as believing. Three times our Lord repeats this glorious truth to Nicodemus. Twice He proclaims that whosoever believeth shall not perish. Once He says, He that believeth on the Son of God is not condemned.

Faith in the Lord Jesus is the very key of salvation. He that has it has life, and he that has it not has not life. Nothing whatever beside this faith is necessary to our complete justification; but nothing whatever, except this faith, will give us an interest in Christ. We may fast and mourn for sin, and do many things that are right, and use religious ordinances, and give all our goods to feed the poor, and yet remain unpardoned, and lose our souls.But if we will only come to Christ as guilty sinners, and believe on Him, our sins shall at once be forgiven, and our iniquities shall be entirely put away. Without faith there is no salvation; but through faith in Jesus, the vilest sinner may be saved.

If we would have a peaceful conscience in our religion, let us see that our views of saving faith are distinct and clear. Let us beware of supposing that justifying faith is anything more than a sinners simple trust in a Saviour, the grasp of a drowning man on the hand held out for his relief.Let us beware of mingling anything else with faith in the matter of justification. Here we must always remember faith stands entirely alone. A justified man, no doubt, will always be a holy man. True believing will always be accompanied by godly living. But that which gives a man a saving interest in Christ, is not his living, but his faith. If we would know whether our faith is genuine, we do well to ask ourselves how we are living. But if we would know whether we are justified by Christ, there is but one question to be asked. That question is, Do we believe?

These verses show us, lastly, the true cause of the loss of mans soul. Our Lord says to Nicodemus, This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

The words before us form a suitable conclusion to the glorious tidings which we have just been considering. They completely clear God of injustice in the condemnation of sinners. They show in simple and unmistakable terms, that although mans salvation is entirely of God, his ruin, if he is lost, will be entirely from himself. He will reap the fruit of his own sowing.

The doctrine here laid down ought to be carefully remembered. It supplies an answer to a common cavil of the enemies of Gods truth. There is no decreed reprobation, excluding any one from heaven. God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. There is no unwillingness on Gods part to receive any sinner, however great his sins. God has sent light into the world, and if man will not come to the light, the fault is entirely on mans side. His blood will be on his own head, if he makes shipwreck of his soul. The blame will be at his own door, if he misses heaven. His eternal misery will be the result of his own choice. His destruction will be the work of his own hand. God loved him, and was willing to save him; out he loved darkness, and therefore darkness must be his everlasting portion. He would not come to Christ, and therefore he could not have life. (John v. 40.)

The truths we have been considering are peculiarly weighty and solemn. Do we live as if we believed them?Salvation by Christs death is close to us today. Have we embraced it by faith, and made it our own?Let us never rest until we know Christ as our own Saviour. Let us look to Him without delay for pardon and peace, if we have never looked before. Let us go on believing on Him, if we have already believed. Whosoever, is His own gracious wordwhosoever believes on Him, shall not perish, but have eternal life.

J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (Baker Books, 2007) [Westminster (PB) | Amazon (HC)], 3:140145.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Please don’t miss worshiping with your local congregation if you can possibly help it. But if you’re in need of a good sermon, try these.

Posted 2009·08·23 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Expository Thoughts on the Gospels · J C Ryle · John Newton · Lord’s Day · Olney Hymns
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