John 3:17

Consider it -

I. IN ITS NEGATIVE ASPECT. "For God sent not his Son," etc. This implies:

1. That God might have sent him for purposes of judgment.

(1) The world amply deserved this. The Jewish world had abused its great and special privileges, and the heathen world had not lived up to the light it possessed, and had become guilty and abominably wicked. Hypocrisy, infidelity, and vice were rampant.

(2) This would be strictly just. If the Son were sent to condemn and destroy the world, the ends of justice would be strictly answered; for even the Jewish world was disimproving under the preliminary dispensation of mercy, and loudly called for judgment.

(3) The world expected and feared this. The world, being guilty naturally, expected and feared punishment. It was suspicious of any communication from the other side. It feared that it might be a message of vengeance. It was so in Eden, and throughout the old dispensation and at the beginning of the new. Friendly angels were suspected of being the executers of justice, and even the Messiah himself was expected to appear as a Judge.

2. God did not do what he might have justly done. "For God sent not," etc.

(1) He had a sufficient reason for this. The reason doubtless was the gracious purpose of his love.

(2) The world is ignorant and guilty and selfish, so as to be blind to the gracious purposes and the merciful movements of Jehovah. The pure in heart can only see him.

(3) God moves in an infinitely higher groove than man. Therefore man's surmises and. anticipations of the Divine purposes are often false, he is better than we think, and more gracious than we expect. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways," etc.

3. Much of God's goodness to the world consists in not doing what he might justly and easily do.

(1) This is seen in nature. In thousands of instances we see how mighty forces would be destructive if not checked by the laws of nature, which are but the almighty and gracious and ever-present energy of the Divine will.

(2) This is seen in providence, as illustrated in the recorded dealings of God towards his people, as well as in the experience of all who seriously think and reflect in every age. "He has not dealt with us after our sins," etc.

(3) This is especially seen in redemption. "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world," etc. Although the world deserved this, God might have sent his Son for the purpose of judgment, but in his goodness he averted the calamity. He sent him not for this purpose.

II. IN ITS AFFIRMATIVE ASPECT. "But that the world through him might he saved."

1. The gracious purpose of God in Christ is salvation.

(1) This is suggested by the fact of the Incarnation. God might have sent his Son into the world to judge it, to punish it. He had a perfect right to do this, but it is not likely that he would do it. The Incarnation does not seem essential to judge and punish. He could do this without it. The fact suggests that the Divine purpose was not vengeance, but salvation; not judgment, but mercy.

(2) This is proved by the mission of the Son in the world. It was "peace on earth, and good will to men." he appeared not with the sword of vengeance, but with the golden sceptre of mercy; and rather than kill any one physically or morally, he voluntarily submitted to be killed himself, and from death offered life to the world, even to his cruelest foes.

(3) This is proved by the effects of his mission in the world. The effects were not destruction, but reformation; not death, but life; not vengeance, but salvation. His ministry and Divine energy healed multitudes physically and spiritually. He cheered, quickened, and saved them.

2. The purpose of God is the salvation of the world, and the whole world. "That the world should be saved." His purpose is as gracious and universal as his love. It embraces the world. Without any distinction of nationality, race, character, education, or position, the purpose is worthy of God as a Divine Philanthropist.

3. The purpose of God is the salvation of the world through the Son. "That the world through him," etc.

(1) He is the Medium of salvation, the great Agent and Author of eternal salvation. Through him the world was created, is supported, and through him it will be saved. What he has done and is doing has made the salvation of the world possible, and through him already the world is potentially saved.

(2) He is the only Medium of salvation. He is the only Saviour. There is no other, and no other would do. If some one else would suffice, the Son would not be sent. The world could be condemned and destroyed through other means, but could be saved through the Son alone.

(3) He is an all-efficient Medium of salvation. The Divine purpose of salvation, in its self-sacrificing love, its greatness, universality, its difficulties, found in him an efficient Medium. He is equal to the task. He has authority to save: God sent him. He is mighty to save: the Son of God. An almighty Saviour by nature, by birth, by Name, by experience, and by ample proofs and Divine and human testimonials, he intends to save; he was sent fur that purpose, and his purpose and love are one with those of God who sent him.

4. The gracious purpose of God to save the world through the Son makes its salvation very hopeful "For God sent not," etc. In view of this, in spite of the world's sin and terrible unbelief, we see infinite possibilities of its salvation. It is now a glorious possibility. Shall it become a practical tact? This is the Divine purpose. Shall it fail? God has answered, it shall not fail on his part. Let the world answer.


1. What God did to the world was infinitely more difficult than what he might have done. He could easily punish it, but to save it cost him infinite sacrifice.

2. What he did, when contrasted with what he might have done, stands forth as a brilliant illustration of his grace and a monument of his love.

3. What he did will be a greater condemnation of the impenitent world then what he might have done. It has placed the world under obligations and responsibilities which neither time nor eternity can obliterate. The punishment of love will be more severe than the punishment of justice.

4. What he did will bring greater glory to his Name. He will be infinitely more glorious in the anthems of a saved world than he would have been in the wails of a lost one. - B.T.

For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world.

1. What is done? He hath redeemed us. Fallen by sin we are all by nature children of wrath, and according to the rules of justice uniter condemnation. Instead of allowing righteous wrath to take its course, God has interposed in arrest of judgment; not to do an unrighteous thing, not to exercise His mercy at the expense of His justice, but to open a door for lovingkindness. The everlasting Son took into union with Himself the nature that deserved the wrath and placed Himself beneath the falling thunderbolt which would have crushed the world. This was done 1800 years ago, and nothing can be added to it or diminished from it.

2. For whom is this work done?(1) For God, in order that His love might flow out in acts of beneficence while at the same time His justice and purity might remain untainted.(2) For the world. Every sinner therefore may put in his claim.

3. Has God actually saved any one? Is redemption the same as salvation? What is salvation?(1) To have all my sins pardoned.(2) To have my soul renewed unto holiness.(3) To have my body transformed into the likeness of Christ's glorious body.(4) To reign with Christ. In this full sense none are saved. God has made provision and is acting on it, and men are being saved, but are not fully saved this side of heaven.


1. He is giving to one sinner after another repentance and forgiveness of sins and a character unto holiness commenced and progressive. During the whole of the dispensation this is the revealed work of the Holy Spirit.

2. To separate the elect from the mass of mankind as His purchased and sanctified ones.

3. He is giving the faith which secures all this, even freedom from condemnation and acceptance in the beloved.

4. Without this faith the old condemnation remains, and a fresh condemnation is added, that following on the rejection of salvation by the only begotten Son of God.

(H. McNeile, D. D.)

I. THE PURPOSE OF GOD in sending His Son into the world. Consider —

1. What that purpose was not. To condemn the world. He might have done so. The world's iniquities had grown to a fearful height, and though for 1800 years the world has continued in rebellion, we dare not say that God sent His Son to condemn the world.

2. What that purpose was: that there should be wrought out in, and tendered to the world in, through, and by Christ, a salvation equal to the wretchedness and peril to which the whole race was exposed. Hence, then, it follows that no sinner need perish for want of a provision of God's mercy and love.


1. What are we to believe?(1) The lost and ruined state which we are in by nature. So long as we deceive ourselves on that point, or excuse it, we hold back from the remedy.(2) Our own utter helplessness and destitution.(3) The reality of the provision of God's mercy in Christ.(4) That the provision of the Gospel is actually tendered to every one.

2. How are we to believe?(1) Not in that speculative way which regards the truth of God as an abstract matter.(2) But in that practical and personal way which accepts this salvation for one's self.(3) It is to lay our hand an the head of the Great Sacrifice which bears away the sin of the world.Conclusion:

1. It was through believing a lie that man fell; it is by believing the truth that he is saved.

2. Deem not sin a light matter.

3. Accept God's provision of grace —



(G. Fisk, LL. B.)


1. Christ came not to condemn the world.(1) Condemnation might have been expected —

(a)From the condition of the world, without desire or effort for deliverance and rebellious against God.

(b)From the errands of other messengers sent in vengeance.

(c)From God's foreknowledge of the way in which Christ would be received.(2) But God's ways are not ours. Had God's design been no more than not to condemn, but merely to neutralize or stay approaching ruin, Christ's mission would have been unspeakably precious.(3) There are those who limit the effect of Christ's mission to a period of undeserved forbearance, and are blindly satisfied with a temporary, unenduring good.

2. Christ came that the world through Him might be saved. The nature of this salvation is —

(1)Atonement for sin.

(2)The bringing in of an everlasting righteousness.

(3)Exaltation to glory.


1. Some men regard the world as saved, contrary to Scripture and universal experience.

2. Others regard God as disappointed in His great design. Not so. God has provided the salvation; man must voluntarily partake of it. How?

1. The glory must be given to God because —

(1)The remote and originating cause is the Father's love.

(2)The meritorious cause, Christ's redeeming work.

(3)The energetic agency, the Holy Spirit. Thus salvation is through the concurrence and co-operation of the Trinity.

2. But what is the instrumental cause? Faith.

(1)Had God proposed that for righteous deeds He would save us, our case had been hopeless.

(2)So it would had He arranged to place us again under the covenant of works, promising that by the deeds of the law performed in our own strength we should inherit heaven.

(3)Equally so had our salvation been conditioned by a combination of Christ's righteousness and our own.

(4)Or by our originating holy emotions of repentance and love.

(5)Knowing all this, God requires only that we should believe on His Son. This faith is His gift, the medium of Divine life and its active principle when communicated, involving self-renunciation, rational dependence on God, and trust in His grace in Christ.


1. Not because God passes them by or excludes them from life.

2. Not because there is no merit for them in Christ's mediation.

3. Not because the Holy Spirit might have breathed upon them, but has not. But —

4. Because the sinner will not believe. In this duty he fails.

(1)Under the sound of the gospel;

(2)Under the strivings of the Spirit;

(3)And though Christ stretches forth His hand all the day long.

5. Consequently he is condemned already by a double condemnation —

(1)Through his relations and adherence to the first man.

(2)Because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

(A. Beith, D. D.)

Christianity is built on facts; those facts are connected with the history of a Person; that Person is the Son of God. Three such facts are here.


1. This fact implies —(1) Separateness of existence.(2) Subordination of existence. These no philosophy has yet reconciled to the doctrine of Divine Unity.

2. This is the greatest fact in the history of the world, perhaps of the universe. It constitutes the great epoch in the annals of the race.

II. God sent His Son into the world NOT TO CONDEMN IT. This is not what might have been expected.

1. Because of the wickedness of the world: full of ingratitude, idolatry, corruption, and rebellion.

2. Because of all the treatment His other messengers had received. The world had rejected, persecuted, murdered His prophets. Might it not then be expected that God's Son would come on a mission of judgment.

III. God sent His Son into the world TO SAVE IT. What is salvation? Not physical, intellectual, or local change, but a restoration in the soul of what has been lost through sin.

1. Supreme love to God — the life of the soul.

2. Constant fellowship with the great Father — the happiness of the soul.

3. Useful service in the universe — the mission of the soul.

(D. Thomas, D. D.)

He does not exclude the greatest sinners when they come to Him, but on the contrary He gives them His first attention, as a surgeon who has been called to a field of battle to dress the wounded always first goes to the most desperate cases.


In September, 1878, a dreadful accident happened on the Thames, when an excursion steamer, named the Princess Alice was cut down by the Bywell Castle, an outward bound merchant steamship. More than seven hundred persons that day found a watery grave. Among the brave efforts that were made on that occasion to save the drowning people, one of the noblest was made by a man who was in charge of a small boat at some distance from the scene of the collision. Rowing with all his might into the midst of the struggling passengers, he pulled several of them one after another into his little boat, which was now full and in danger of sinking, and prepared to row away. But when he saw the white, upturned faces of many others, and heard their piteous cries, "Oh, save me, sir!" "Don't leave me, sir!" it is said that in agony he threw up his arms and cried, "O God, that I had a bigger boat! O God, that I had a bigger boat!" His heart was large enough to save all who were perishing, but his boat was too small; his power was limited. It is not so with Christ. He is the Life.boat of perishing humanity, and in Him there is room for the whole race, for "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world."

(R. Brewin.)

You can understand when the Prince of Wales went to America, all the country was excited, and it was said be had come for this purpose and that purpose. But when Christ comes He can tell us what He comes for. When the Prince of Heaven comes into this world He can tell us the nature of His mission. For "the Son of Man comes to seek and to save that which was lost."

(D. L. Moody.)

I remember when Master Street Hospital, in Philadelphia, was opened during the war, a telegram came, saying, "There will be three hundred wounded men to-night; be ready to take care of them"; and from my church there went in some twenty or thirty men and women to look after these poor wounded fellows. As they came, some from one part of the land, some from another, no one asked whether this man was from Oregon, or from Massachusetts, or from Minnesota, or from New York. There was a wounded soldier, and the only question was how to take off the rags the most gently, and put on the bandage, and administer the cordial. And when a soul comes to God, He does not ask where you came from, or what your ancestry was. Healing for all your wounds. Pardon for all your guilt. Comfort for all your troubles.

(T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)

When the Romans, by conquest, might have given law to the Grecians at Corinth, in the solemn time of the Isthmian games, their general, by a herald, unexpectedly proclaimed freedom to all the cities of Greece; the proclamation at first did so amaze the Grecians, that they did not believe it to be true. But when it was proclaimed the second time, they gave such a shout that the very birds flying in the air were astonished therewith, and fell dead to the ground. But if you will have a better story, take that of the Jews, who, when at first they heard of Cyrus' proclamation, and that the Lord thereby had turned the captivity of Sion, they confess that, at the first hearing of it, they were like men that dreamed; but afterwards their mouths were filled with laughter and their tongues with singing. Now, the peace that the Grecians and the Jews had was but the peace of a people or a nation, and a great blessing of God, too. But how much more reason is there that our affections should be strained to the highest pitch of joy and thanks, when we hear of the proclamation of the peace of conscience? that peace which is not of our bodies but of our souls — not of our earthly but of our heavenly estate? a peace that shall be begun here — that shall endure for ever hereafter; such a peace as will make God at peace with us, reconcile us to ourselves, and make us at concord with all the world.

(J. Spencer.)

He that believeth on Him is not condemned
I. THE STARTLING PHENOMENON. The judicial separation of mankind into two classes, the believing and the unbelieving, the workers of evil and doers of good (vers. 20-21).

1. When it occurred. At the appearing of Christ (ver. 19).

2. How it was effected. By the appearing of Christ, the light, the effects of which were(1) Illumination, setting in bold relief what was previously obscure, viz., that there are only two varieties of character, the good and the bad (Matthew 4:1, 2).(2) Separation. Not by the direct action of Christ, but through the indirect action of the truth (Job 24:13).(3) Arbitration. The man who comes to the light judges himself and separates himself from the darkness, declaring himself to be antagonistic to it. So with the man who turns from the light (Acts 13:46). Thus by coming into the world Christ initiates a judicial process which will culminate in the great day (Malachi 3:18; Matthew 25:26).


1. Of the behaviour of those who come not to the light.(1) They love darkness not more than light, as though there lingered some appreciation, but rather than the light which they do not love at all (ver. 20), because it is congenial to the works in which they delight (Ephesians 5:11; Proverbs 2:13; Psalm 82:5); to themselves as children of darkness.(2) They hate the light as well as love the darkness; for prophesying evil (2 Chronicles 18:7); for suggesting good (chap. 13:26, 27). Hence they shun the light (Job 24:14-16) like Lady Macbeth (Acts 1. scene 5).

2. Of the conduct of those who came to the light.(1) They have a natural affinity for it (John 18:37).(2) They are not afraid of the light (Ephesians 5:8-13).Lessons —

1. If a sinner is condemned, himself only, and neither God nor Christ, is to blame.

2. If a sinner refuses to believe the gospel, he must share in the judgment which will ultimately fall upon the world.

(T. Whitelaw, D. D.)

When our Lord shall come a second time, before Him shall be gathered all nations, and He shall separate them as the shepherd divideth the sheep from the goats. That will not be the first time that He has acted as a separator. It is always so whenever He comes. Now He finds out His chosen and calls them apart, and on the other hand unbelievers are discovered. Between the two is a deep gulf. Other distinctions, riches and poverty, etc., sink into insignificance.


1. What is meant by believing in Christ, for such is the preposition here.(1) Some believe concerning Him that He is the Messiah, the Saviour of men. But orthodoxy is not synonymous with justification.(2) It is a step further when we believe Him. Believing Him to be God's Christ, it follows as a matter of course that we accept His word as true; but this is not a state of salvation.(3) Another form of faith is believing on Him, to lean upon Him, and take Him as the foundation of our hope. A form of saving faith.(4) But believing in is something more. If I thoroughly believe in an advocate, I trust my case to him, and thus believe on him; but I also follow his rules to the letter, being fully convinced that they will lead to a right issue.

2. The connection of the text will help us to form a judgment as to whether we are believers in Jesus.(1) Have you realized by a true exercise of faith verses 13 and 15?(2) Do you, as having trusted in Jesus, come to the light (ver 21)? Is it your desire to know God's truth, God's will, God's law?

3. Are we unbelievers?(1) Instead of looking to the brazen serpent, are you seeking another remedy?(2) Do you shut your eyes to the one only light?

II. CONSIDER THE CONDITION OF THE BELIEVER. He is not condemned, because he does not offer himself for judgment. He says, "I plead guilty." Having done this, the believer sees the sentence laid upon the surety in whom he believes. This brings him peace. Then no more condemned, he seeks the light, and desires more and more to work in it.


1. He offers himself for judgment. He has not believed in the Saviour, and confesses, "I do not require Him. I am willing to stand my trial." If you ask for judgment you shall have it. God declares you to be condemned already.

2. He gives personal evidence to his own condemnation. He rejects the testimony of God concerning Christ. Is not that enough to condemn him?

3. He rejects a most exalted person. When men rejected Moses they perished without mercy; but when a man despises the Only begotten, we need call no witnesses against him.

4. He gives evidence against himself, for every man who rejects the true light always goes on to reject other forms of light, God's Word and Spirit and his own conscience.

5. Consider the condemnation already pronounced.

(1)It is no matter of form.

(2)God has power at any moment to carry it into effect.

(3)There is no promise that He will not execute it this very day.

6. Consider the only way of escape — immediate faith.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

I. THE OBJECT OF FAITH. To what faith looks.

1. How many make a mistake about this and think they are to believe in God the Father! But we come to this as a result of believing in God the Son.

2. Others look to the work of the Holy Ghost; but this is the effect of faith in Christ.

3. Christ is the sole object of the sinner's faith.

(1)As God.

(2)In His perfect righteousness.

(3)As dying and dead.

(4)Is risen.

(5)As your substitute.

II. THE REASON OF FAITH Why and whence.

1. To his own experience faith comes as a sense of the need of a Saviour.

2. Really and originally it is the gift of God. The Spirit comes and shuts men up under the law to a conviction that unless they come to Christ they must perish.

III. THE GROUND OF FAITH. What it means when it comes. Not that a man is a sensible sinner, or an awakened shiner, or a penitent sinner, but simply because lie is a sinner.

IV. THE WARRANT OF FAITH. Why a man dares to trust in Christ. Just because Christ has bidden him. Faith is a duty as well as a privilege.

IV. THE RESULT OF FAITH. How it speeds when it comes to Christ. "He that believeth is not condemned."

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

I. THE SATISFACTORY DECLARATION. A verdict of "not guilty" amounts to an acquittal, so the sentence of "not condemned" implies the justification of the sinner. This is —

1. A. present justification. Faith does not produce this fruit by and by, bug now.

2. A continual justification.

3. A complete justification, not half condemned and half accepted.

4. An effectual justification.


1. Some think they shall never sin again.

2. Others that they will have no more conflicts.

3. Others that they will be free from trials.

4. Others that the Father's countenance will always be clear. None of these are guaranteed.


IV. WHAT THE TEXT EXCLUDES — the unbeliever.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)


1. Affirmatively. Our Lord mentions only the relation of faith to the legal aspect of salvation. This was enough, for he who apprehends believingly the work of Christ as the ground of his justification will not fail to experience it as a regenerative power. Many stumble through the simplicity of faith. They suppose that something difficult is required. But faith is identical with that implicit unquestioning confidence a person ordinarily exercises almost unconsciously in relation to almost everything he appropriates to his use: the food he eats, the garment he wears, the medicine he takes, the bridge he crosses, the train by which he travels.

2. Negatively. Without faith salvation is impossible. It is not that the unbeliever shall be condemned, he is actually so. It is a solemn truth that, notwithstanding all that Christ has done for us, it will avail us nothing without personal faith, for God cannot save men without their will.

II. ITS NEGLECT BY SOME. The light here referred to is Christ (John 1:9; John 8:12).

1. Men are voluntarily in the state indicated by darkness. Men are not unbelievers by compulsion. They love darkness. What a perversion of natural taste and judgment would such a physical predilection imply! "Truly the light is sweet," etc. Yet a course of conduct that would be deemed the grossest folly physically is followed by thousands spiritually.

2. This is not an absolute preference. A degree of love for the light is implied. Many who remain in darkness cannot help feeling a measure of admiration for the light in which they refuse to walk: they attend the ministry of it, grant their passive assent to it, and yet remain in the darkness of unbelief.


1. How explicitly our Lord brings the responsibility of men's perdition home to themselves.

2. How sad that condemnation should be the portion of those who occupy a position so near salvation. Bunyan says there is a way to hell from the very gate of heaven.

(A. J. Parry.)

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