COMMENTS ON JOHN 3.22-36
J. C. Ryle
We have, firstly, in these verses, a humbling example of the petty jealousies and party-spirit which may exist among professors of
religion. We are told, that the disciples of John the Baptist were offended, because the ministry of Jesus began to attract more attention than that of their master. “They came unto John, and said unto him. Rabbi, He that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold the same baptizeth, and all men come to
The spirit exhibited in this complaint, is unhappily too common in the Churches of Christ. The succession of these complainers has never failed. There are never wanting religious professors who care far more for the increase of their own party, than for the increase of true Christianity; and who cannot rejoice in the spread of religion, if it spreads anywhere except within their own pale. There is a generation which can see no good doing except in the ranks of its own congregations; and which seems ready to shut men out of
heaven, if they will not enter therein under its banner.
The true Christian must watch and pray against the spirit here
manifested by John’s disciples. It is very insidious, very contagious, and very injurious to the cause of religion. Nothing so defiles Christianity and gives the enemies of truth such occasion to
blaspheme, as jealousy and party-spirit among Christians. Wherever there is real grace, we should be ready and willing to acknowledge it, even though it may be outside our own pale. We should strive to say with the Apostle, “If Christ be preached, I rejoice: yea, and will rejoice.” (Phil. 1.18.) If good is done, we ought to be thankful, though it even may not be done in what we think the best way. If souls are saved, we ought to be glad, whatever be the means that God may think fit to employ.
We have, secondly, in these verses, a splendid pattern of true and gpdly humility. We see in John the Baptist a very different spirit from that displayed by his disciples. He begins by laying down the great principle, that acceptance with man is a special gift of God;
and that we must therefore not presume to find fault, when others have more acceptance than ourselves. “A man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven.” He goes on to remind his followers of his repeated declaration, that One greater than himself was coming: “I said, I am not the Christ.” He tells them that his office compared to that of Christ, is that of the bridegroom’s friend, compared to the bridegroom. And finally, he solemnly affirms, that Christ must and will become greater and greater, and that he
himself must become less and less important, until, like a star eclipsed by the rising sun, he has completely disappeared.
A frame of mind like this is the highest degree of grace to which mortal man can attain. The greatest saint in the sight of God is the man who is most thoroughly “clothed with humility.” (1 Peter 5.5.) Would we know the prime secret of being men of the stamp of Abraham, and Moses, and Job, and David, and Daniel, and Paul, and John the Baptist? They were all eminently humble men. Living at different ages, and enjoying very different degrees of light, in this matter at least they were all agreed. In themselves they saw nothing but sin and weakness. To God they gave all the praise of what they were. Let us walk in their steps. Let us covet earnestly the best gifts;
but above all, let us covet humility. The way to true honour is to be humble. No man ever was so praised by Christ as the very man who says here, “I must decrease,”Â—the humble John the Baptist.
We have, thirdly, in these verses, an instructive declaration of Christ’s honour and dignity. John the Baptist teaches his disciples once more the true greatness of the Person whose growing popularity offended them. Once more, and perhaps for the last time, he proclaims Him as one worthy of all honour and praise. He uses one striking expression after another, to convey a correct idea of the majesty of Christ. He speaks of Him as “the bridegroom” of the Church,Â—as “Him that cometh from above,”Â—as “Him whom God hath sent,”Â—as “Him to whom the Spirit is given without measure,”Â—as Him “whom the Father loves,” and into “whose hands all things are given,”Â—to believe in whom is life everlasting, and to reject whom is eternal ruin. Each of these phrases is full of deep meaning, and would supply matter for a long sermon. All show the depth and height of John’s spiritual attainments. More honourable things are nowhere written concerning Jesus, than these verses recorded as spoken by John the Baptist.
Let us endeavour in life and death, to hold the same views of the Lord Jesus, to which John here gives expression. We can never make too much of Christ. Our thoughts about the Church, the ministry, and the sacraments, may easily become too high and extravagant. We can never have too high thoughts about Christ, can never love Him too much, trust Him too implicitly, lay too much weight upon Him, and speak too highly in His praise. He is worthy of all the honour that we can give Him. He will be all in heaven. Let us see to it, that He is all in our hearts on earth.