Charles Simeon (1759-1836) on John 3:17

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism   in John 3:16



John iii. 17. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

AN expectation generally prevailed among the Jews that their Messiah would interpose on behalf of their nation alone, and bring all other kingdoms into subjection to them. Our Lord took frequent occasions to rectify this mistake, and to show, that he was to be the Savior, not of one people? only, but of the whole world. In this discourse with Nicodemus, he introduces this important subject in such a way as to inform his mind, without shocking his prejudices. Having explained to him the nature and necessity of regeneration, and shown him, by reference to a well known type, the way of salvation, he declares, that the whole world, Gentiles as well as Jews, were to participate the benefits of his coming; and that God, in sending him into the world, had as much respect to the welfare of the benighted heathens as of his chosen and peculiar people. To elucidate the words before us, we shall show,

I. That, supposing God to send his Son into the world, it was far more probable that he should send him to condemn the world than to save it

That God should ever send his Son into the world at all is such a mystery as must for ever fill the whole universe with amazement. But supposing him to make known his determination to do so, the probability certainly was that it should be for our destruction rather than our salvation–

1. Consider what was the state of the world at the time he did send his Son–

[Had he seen the greater part of mankind lamenting their fall, wishing earnestly that some way could be devised for their recovery, and struggling, but with unsuccessful efforts, to get free from sin, we might have supposed that God would exercise mercy towards us, and open a way for our restoration through the sacrifice of his Son. But when the whole mass of mankind were up in arms against him, when not one of the whole human race (except a few whose hearts he himself had touched) desired reconciliation with him; yea, when all were utterly averse from it, and desired nothing so much as to live in sin with impunity, and wished for no better heaven than the unrestrained indulgence of their lusts; for what end could God send his Son, but to execute upon them the vengeance they deserved?]

2. Consider for what end God had before sent messengers from heaven–

[God had on some remarkable occasions commissioned angels to perform his will: and though, when sent to some highly-favored individuals, they were messengers of mercy, yet, when sent to the avowed enemies of God, they were, for the most part, ministers of wrath to execute the most signal vengeance. Who can contemplate Sodom and the cities of the plain; who can call to mind the Egyptian first-born; who can survey one hundred and eighty-five thousand soldiers lying dead in the Assyrian camp; and not tremble at the thought of a messenger being sent from heaven? Suppose then we should hear that God was about to send his own Son from heaven to execute his will with respect to the whole world, and especially such a world as this; what would any one imagine, but that, as it was not a particular city or nation that God was about to punish, but a whole world, he had determined to employ his own Son; and that the judgments he was about to inflict, would be great in proportion to the power and dignity of the executioner? As for conceiving the idea that he should send his Son to save the world, it would not so much as enter into the mind of any created being.]

3. Consider that God certainly foreknew the way in which the world would treat his Son–

[If God had not certainly foreknown all future events, he might perhaps have reasoned thus: I have sent to that wretched world my servants the prophets, and instead of attending to them they have persecuted them even unto death: but if I should send them my SON, surely they would reverence HIM; they would not dare to lift up a finger against him; they would be so struck with wonder at my condescension and love, that they would return instantly to their allegiance. Rather therefore than they should perish, I will send them my Son to save them. But God knew that instead of reverencing his Son, they would no sooner see him, than they would exclaim, “This is the heir; come let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.” He knew full well that, however manifest the credentials of his Son, and however indisputable the evidences of his divine mission, they would not believe in him, but would cast him out of the vineyard and slay him. What then must we suppose God would say on such an occasion? Surely he would speak to this effect: If I could hope that they would reverence my Son, I would overlook all the injuries done to my prophets, and would even send my Son for their salvation: but I know they would all thirst for his blood; they would pluck me from my throne if they were able; and, if I should put my Son into their power, they would load him with all manner of indignities, and put him to the most ignominious death: shall I then, foreseeing these things as I do, put him into their power? No: that were unworthy of my majesty, and degrading to my Son. I may possibly send my Son; but, if I do, it shall not be to save the world, but to condemn them according to their desert. ]

These considerations fully evince the improbability that God should ever use the mediation of his Son in a way of mercy towards us. Yet we must add,

II. That, notwithstanding it was so improbable, God did really send his Son, not to condemn, but to save the world

The frequency with which we hear of this stupendous mystery, prevents the surprise which the declaration of it must otherwise excite. But, what ever the ignorance of scoffers, and the pride of infidels may suggest, be it known to all, that God did send his Son,

1. To expiate sin–

[God knew that it was impossible for man to atone for sin– – –Yet it was also impossible that sin could be forgiven, unless an adequate atonement were offered to the Divine Majesty– – –What was to be done? The angels, even if they were willing, were not able to undertake our cause. There was but one, even in heaven, that was competent to the mighty task of appeasing incensed Majesty, and of satisfying offended justice: there was none but Jesus, the best-beloved of the Father, who from eternity had lain in his bosom. And would the Father give HIM? Yes; “He spared not his own Son, but delivered HIM up for us all.” “He prepared him a body,” and “sent him to be a propitiation, not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world”– – –What amazing love! Eternity will not suffice to explore and celebrate this stupendous mystery.]

2. To work out a righteousness for us–

[Mankind were as unable to provide for themselves a righteousness wherein they might stand before God, as they were to make an atonement for their past offenses– – –But, behold, God would not leave us destitute; he gave his Son to fulfill the law which we had broken, and, “to bring in an everlasting righteousness,” “which should be unto all and upon all them that believe”– – –The name given him on this very account is, “The Lord our Righteousness.” Clothed in his unspotted robe, the vilest of returning prodigals may stand perfect and complete in the presence of their God– – –Every one of them may say, “In the Lord have I righteousness and strength.”]

3. To exalt us to glory–

[It was not only to begin, but to carry on and perfect our salvation, that the Father sent his Son into the world. He is to be both “the author and the finisher of our faith”– – – Having delivered our souls from the guilt of sin, and from the powers of darkness, he will raise up our bodies also from the grave, and exalt us to sit upon his throne for evermore– – –Never will he cease from his work, till he has fully and finally accomplished it on behalf of his people – How wonderful is this! Surely it almost exceeds belief: that, instead of condemning the world, God should send his Son to save it, to save it by laying down his own life a ransom for us, and by managing all the concerns of every one of his elect till he shall have finally established them in the possession of their heavenly inheritance! Hear, O heavens, and be astonished, O earth: yea, let all the choirs of heaven make it the ever lasting subject of their highest praises– – –]


1. Those who are regardless of their own salvation–

[Alas! how little effect do the wonders of redemption produce on the world at large! But what an aggravation of their guilt will it be to have poured contempt upon the Son of God! Surely God’s greatest mercy will prove their heaviest curse. The very devils will have more to say on their own behalf than they. Satan himself may say, “I never had salvation offered me; I never sinned against redeeming love.” But careless sinners are daily “trampling under foot the Son of God,” who lived and died to save them. O lay this to heart, and seek an interest in him who alone can deliver you from the wrath to come.]

2. Those who are ready to doubt whether they ever can be saved–

[Many such there arc in the Church of Christ– – –But did God send his Son to execute a work which he was not able to perform? or has Jesus discovered any backwardness to fulfill his engagements?– – –Let not any be afraid: for if a whole world is to be saved by him, he cannot but have a sufficiency to supply all our wants, provided we commit our selves entirely to him– – –]

3. Those who are enjoying salvation [While you are reaping the blessed fruits of the Father’s love, surely you will often say, what shall I render to the Lord? If he gave up his dear Son for my salvation, shall not I give up a bosom lust for his glory?– – –Think how much you are indebted to him; and Endeavor to glorify him with your body and your spirit which are his.]

Charles Simeon, ‘Horæ Homileticæ,” in The Entire Works of the Rev. Charles Simeon (London: Printed by Richard Clay, Bread-Street-Hill, 1833), 13:259-263.

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