Chrysostom on John 26
"That which is born of the flesh is flesh: and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."
[1.] Great mysteries are they, of which the Only-begotten Son of God has counted us worthy; great, and such as we were not worthy of, but such as it was meet for Him to give. For if one reckon our desert, we were not only unworthy of the gift, but also liable to punishment and vengeance; but He, because He looked not to this, not only delivered us from punishment, but freely gave us a life much more bright1 than the first, introduced us into another world, made us another creature; “If any man be in Christ,” saith Paul, “he is a new creature.” (2Co 5,17). What kind of “new creature”? Hear Christ Himself declare; “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.” Paradise was entrusted to us, and we were shown unworthy to dwell even there, yet He hath exalted us to heaven. In the first things we were found unfaithful, and He hath committed to us greater; we could not refrain from a single tree, and He hath provided for us the delights2 above; we kept not our place in Paradise, and He hath opened to us the doors of heaven. Well said Paul, “O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Rm 11,33). There is no longer a mother, or pangs, or sleep, or coming together, and embracings of bodies; henceforth all the fabric3 of our nature is framed above, of the Holy Ghost and water. The water is employed, being made the Birth to him who is born; what the womb is to the embryo, the water is to the believer; for in the water he is fashioned and formed. At first it was said, “Let the waters bring forth the creeping things that have life” (Gn 1,20 LXX).; but from the time that the Lord entered the streams of Jordan, the water no longer gives forth the “creeping thing that hath life,” but reasonable and Spirit-bearing souls; and what has been said of the sun, that he is “as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber” (Ps 18,6), we may now rather say of the faithful, for they send forth rays far brighter than he. That which is fashioned in the womb requires time, not so that in water, but all is done in a single moment. Here our life is perishable, and takes its origin from the decay of other bodies; that which is to be born comes slowly, (for such is the nature of bodies, they acquire perfection by time,) but it is not so with spiritual things. And why? Because the things made are formed perfect from the beginning.
When Nicodemus still hearing these things was troubled, see how Christ partly opens to him the secret of this mystery, and makes that clear which was for a while obscure to him. “That which is born,” saith He, “of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” He leads him away from all the things of sense. i and suffers him not vainly to pry into the mysteries revealed with his fleshly eyes; “We speak not,” saith He, “of flesh, but of Spirit, O Nicodemus,” (by this word He directs him heavenward for a while,) “seek then nothing relating to things of sense; never can the Spirit appear to those eyes, think not that the Spirit bringeth forth the flesh.” “How then,” perhaps one may ask, “was the Flesh of the Lord brought forth?” Not of the Spirit only, but of flesh; as Paul declares, when he says, “Made of a woman, made under the Law” (Ga 4,4); for the Spirit fashioned Him not indeed out of nothing, (for what need was there then of a womb?) but from the flesh of a Virgin. How, I cannot explain unto you; yet it was done, that no one might suppose that what was born is alien to our nature. For if even when this has taken place there are some who disbelieve in such a birth, into what impiety would they not have fallen had He not partaken of the Virgin’s flesh.
“That which is born4 of the Spirit is spirit.” Seest thou the dignity of the Spirit? It appears performing the work of God; for above he said of some, that, “they were begotten of God,” (c. 1,13,) here He saith, that the Spirit begetteth them.
“That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” His meaning is of this kind; “He that is born5 of the Spirit is spiritual.” For the Birth which He speaks of here is not that according to essence,6 but according to honor and grace. Now if the Son is so born also, in what shall He be superior to men so born? And how is He, Only-begotten? For I too am born of God, though not of His Essence, and if He also is not of His Essence, how in this respect does He differ from us? Nay, He will then be found to be inferior to the Spirit; for birth of this kind is by the grace of the Spirit. Needs He then the help of the Spirit that He may continue a Son? And in what do these differ from Jewish doctrines?
Christ then having said, “He that is born of the Spirit is spirit,” when He saw him again confused, leads His discourse to an example from sense, saying,
Jn 3,7-8. “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.7 The wind bloweth where it listeth.”
For by saying, “Marvel not,” He indicates the confusion of his soul, and leads him to something lighter than body. He had already led him away from fleshly things, by saying, “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit”; but when Nicodemus knew not what “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” meant, He next carries him to another figure, not bringing him to the density of bodies, nor yet speaking of things purely incorporeal, (for had he heard he could not have received this,) but having found a something between what is and what is not body, namely, the motion of the wind, He brings him to that next. And He saith of it,
“Thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth.”
Though He saith, “it bloweth where it listeth,” He saith it not as if the wind had any power of choice, but declaring that its natural motion cannot be hindered, and is with power. For Scripture knoweth how to speak thus of things without life, as when it saith, “The creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly.” (Rm 8,20). The expression therefore, “bloweth where it listeth,” is that of one who would show that it cannot be restrained, that it is spread abroad everywhere, and that none can hinder its passing hither and thither, but that it goes abroad with great might, and none is able to turn aside its violence.
[2.] “And thou hearest its voice,”8 (that is, its rustle, its noise,) “but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”
Here is the conclusion of the whole matter. “If,” saith He, “thou knowest not how to explain the motion nor the path of this wind9 which thou perceivest by hearing and touch, why art thou over-anxious about the working of the Divine Spirit, when thou understandest not that of the wind, though thou hearest its voice?” The expression, “bloweth where it listeth,” is also used to establish the power of the Comforter; for if none can hold the wind, but it moveth where it listeth, much less will the laws of nature, or limits of bodily generation, or anything of the like kind, be able to restrain the operations of the Spirit.
That the expression, “thou hearest its voice,” is used respecting the wind, is clear from this circumstance; He would not, when conversing with an unbeliever and one unacquainted with the operation of the Spirit, have said, “Thou hearest its voice.” As then the wind is not visible, although it utters a sound, so neither is the birth of that which is spiritual visible to our bodily eyes; yet the wind is a body, although a very subtle one; for whatever is the object of sense is body. If then you do not complain because you cannot see this body, and do not on this account disbelieve, why do you, when you hear of “the Spirit,” hesitate and demand such exact accounts, although you act not so in the case of a body? What then doth Nicodemus? still he continues in his low Jewish opinion, and that too when so clear an example has been mentioned to him. Wherefore when he again says doubtingly,
Jn 3,9-10. “How can these things be?” Christ now speaks to him more chidingly; “Art thou a master in Israel, and knowest not these things?”
Observe how He nowhere accuses the man of wickedness, but only of weakness and simplicity. “And what,” one may ask, “has this birth in common with Jewish matters?” Tell me rather what has it that is not in common with them? For the first-created man, and the woman formed from his side, and the barren women, and the things accomplished by water, I mean what relates to the fountain on which Elisha made the iron tool to swim, to the Red Sea which the Jews passed over, to the pool which the Angel troubled, to Naaman the Syrian who was cleansed in Jordan, all these proclaimed beforehand, as by a figure, the Birth and the purification which were to be. And the words of the Prophet allude to the manner of this Birth, as, “It shall be announced unto the Lord a generation which cometh, and they shall announce His righteousness unto a people that shall be born, whom the Lord hath made” (Ps 22,30 Ps 30,31 LXX).; and, “Thy youth shall be renewed as an eagle’s” (Ps 103,5 LXX).; and, “Shine, O Jerusalem; behold, Thy King cometh!” (Is 60,1 Za 9,9); and, “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven.” (Ps 32,1 LXX). Isaac also was a type of this Birth. For tell me, Nicodemus, how was he born? was it according to the law of nature? By no means; the mode of his generation was midway between this of which we speak and the natural; the natural, because he was begotten by cohabitation; the other, because he was begotten not of blood, 10 (but by the will of God). I shall show that these figures 11 proclaimed beforehand not only this birth, but also that from the Virgin. For, because no one would easily have believed that a virgin could bear a child, barren women first did so, then such as were not only barren, but aged also. That a woman should be made from a rib was indeed far more wonderful than that the barren should conceive; but because that was of early and old time, another figure, new and fresh, was given, that of the barren women; to prepare the way for belief in the Virgin’s travail. To remind him then of these things, Jesus said, “Art thou a master in Israel, and knowest not these things?”
Jn 3,11. “We speak that We do know, and testify that We have seen, and none receiveth 12 Our witness.”
This He added, making His words credible by another argument, and condescending in His speech to the other’s infirmity.
[3.] And what is this that He saith, “We speak that We do know, and testify that We have seen”? Because with us the sight is the most trustworthy of the senses, and if we desire to gain a person’s belief, we speak thus, that we saw it with our eyes, not that we know it by hearsay; Christ therefore speaks to him rather after the manner of men, gaining belief for His words by this means also. And that this is so, and that He desires to establish nothing else, and refers not to sensual vision, is clear from this; after saying, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit,” He adds, “We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen.” Now this (of the Spirit) was not yet born 13 ; how then saith He, “what we have seen”? Is it not plain that He speaks of a knowledge not otherwise than exact?
“And none receiveth our witness.” The expression “we know,” He uses then either concerning Himself and His Father, or concerning Himself alone; and “no man receiveth,” is the expression not of one displeased, but of one who declares a fact: for He said not, “What can be more senseless than you who receive not what is so exactly declared by us?” but displaying all gentleness, both by His works and His words, He uttered nothing like this; mildly and kindly He foretold what should come to pass, so guiding us too to all gentleness, and teaching us when we converse with any and do not persuade them, not to be annoyed or made savage; for it is impossible for one out of temper to accomplish his purpose, he must make him to whom he speaks still more incredulous. Wherefore we must abstain from anger, and make our words in every way credible by avoiding not only wrath, but also loud speaking 14 for loud speaking is the fuel of passion.
Let us then bind 15 the horse, that we may subdue the rider; let us clip the wings of our wrath, so the evil shall no more rise to a height. A keen passion is anger, keen, and skillful to steal our souls; therefore we must on all sides guard against its entrance. It were strange that we should be able to tame wild beasts, and yet should neglect our own savage minds. Wrath is a fierce fire, it devours all things; it harms the body, it destroys the soul, it makes a man deformed 16 and ugly to look upon; and if it were possible for an angry person to be visible to himself at the time of his anger, he would need no other admonition, for nothing is more displeasing than an angry countenance. Anger is a kind of drunkenness, or rather it is more grievous than drunkenness, and more pitiable than (possession of) a daemon. But if we be careful not to be Bud in speech, 17 we shall find this the best path to sobriety of conduct. 18 And therefore Paul would take away clamor as well as anger, when he says, “Let all anger and clamor be put away from you.” (Ep 4,31). Let us then obey this teacher of all wisdom, and when we are wroth with our servants, let us consider our own trespasses, and be ashamed at their forbearance. For when thou art insolent, and thy servant bears thy insults in silence, when thou actest unseemly, he like a wise man, take this instead of any other warning. Though he is thy servant, he is still a man, has an immortal soul, and has been honored with the same gifts as thee by your common Lord. And if he who is our equal in more important and more spiritual things, on account of some poor and trifling human superiority so meekly bears our injuries, what pardon can we deserve, what excuse can we make, who cannot, or rather will not, be as wise through fear of God, as he is through fear of us? Considering then all these things, and calling to mind Our own transgressions, and the common nature of man, let us be careful at all times to speak gently, that being humble in hear we may find rest for our souls, both that which now is, and that which is to come; which may we all attain, by the grace and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom to the Father and the Holy Ghost be glory, for ever and ever Amen.
1 al. “precious.”
4 or, “begotten.”
5 or. “begotten.”
7 or, “from above.”
9 or, “spirit.”
10 lit “of bloods,” as in c. 1,13.
12 ouj lambavnete, G. T.
13 or, “begotten.”
14 lit. “shouting.”
15 lit. “tie the feet of.”
16 or, “unpleasing.”
"If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man hath ascended up to heaver, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man which is in heaven."
[1.] What I have often said I shall now repeat, and shall not cease to say. What is that? It is that Jesus, when about to touch on sublime doctrines, often contains Himself by reason of the infirmity of His hearers, and dwells not for a continuance on subjects worthy of His greatness, but rather on those which partake of condescension. For the sublime and great, being but once uttered, is sufficient to establish that character, as far as we are able to hear it; but unless more lowly sayings, and such as are nigh to1 the comprehension of the hearers, were continually uttered, the more sublime would not readily take hold on a groveling listener. And therefore of the sayings of Christ more are lowly than sublime. But yet that this again may not work another mischief, by detaining the disciple here below, He does not merely set before men His inferior sayings without first telling them why He utters them; as, in fact, He has done in this place. For when He had said what He did concerning Baptism, and the Generation by grace which takes place on earth, being desirous to admit2 them to that His own mysterious and incomprehensible Generation, He holds it in suspense for a while, and admits them not, and then tells them His reason for not admitting them. What is that? It is, the dullness and infirmity of His hearers. And referring to this He added the words, “If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things?” so that wherever He saith anything ordinary and humble, we must attribute this to the infirmity of His audience.
The expression “earthly things,” some say is here used of the wind; that is, “If I have given you an example from earthly things, and ye did not even so believe, how shall ye be able to learn sublimer things?” And wonder not if He here call Baptism an “earthly” thing, for He calls it so, either from its being performed on earth, or so naming it in comparison with that His own most awful Generation. For though this Generation of ours is heavenly, yet compared with that true Generation which is from the Substance of the Father, it is earthly.
(He does not say, “Ye have not understood,” but, “Ye have not believed”; for when a man is ill disposed towards those things which it is possible to apprehend by the intellect, and will not readily receive them, he may justly be charged with want of understanding; but when he receives not things which cannot be apprehended by reasoning, but only by faith, the charge against him is no longer want of understanding, but unbelief. Leading him therefore away from enquiring by reasonings into what had been said, He touches him more severely by charging him with want of faith. If now we must receive our own Generation3 by faith, what do they deserve who are busy with their reasonings about that of the Only-Begotten?
But perhaps some may ask, “And if the hearers were not to believe these sayings, wherefore were they uttered?” Because though “they” believed not, those who came after would believe and profit by them. Touching him therefore very severely, Christ goes on to show that He knoweth not these things only, but others also, far more and greater than these. And this He declared by what follows, when He said, “And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man which is in heaven.”
“And what manner of sequel is this?”4 asks one. The very closest, and entirely in unison with what has gone before. For since Nicodemus had said, “We know that Thou art a teacher come from God,” on this very point He sets him right, all but saying, “Think Me not a teacher in such manner as were the many of the prophets who were of earth, for I have come from heaven (but) now. None of the prophets hath ascended up thither, but I dwell there.” Seest thou how even that which appears very exalted is utterly unworthy of his greatness? For not in heaven only is He, but everywhere, and He fills all things; but yet He speaks according to the infirmity of His hearer, desiring to lead him up little by little. And in this place He called not the flesh “Son of Man,” but He now named, so to speak, His entire Self from the inferior substance; indeed this is His wont, to call His whole Person5 often from His Divinity, and often from His humanity.
Jn 3,14. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”
This again seems to depend upon what has gone before, and this too has a very close connection with it. For after having spoken of the very great benefaction that had come to man by Baptism, He proceeds to mention another benefaction, which was the cause of this, and not inferior to it; namely, that by the Cross. As also Paul arguing with the Corinthians sets down these benefits together, when he says, “Was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized into the name of Paul?” for these two things most of all declare His unspeakable love, that He both suffered for His enemies, and that having died for His enemies, He freely gave to them by Baptism entire remission of their sins.
[2.] But wherefore did He not say plainly, “I am about to be crucified,” instead of referring His hearers to the ancient type? First, that you may learn that old things are akin to new, and that the one are not alien to the other; next, that you may know that He came not unwillingly to His Passion; and again, besides these reasons, that you may learn that no harm arises to Him from the Fact,6 and that to many there springs from it salvation. For, that none may say, “And how is it possible that they who believe on one crucified should be saved, when he himself is holden of death?” He leads us to the ancient story. Now if the Jews, by looking to the brazen image of a serpent, escaped death, much rather will they who believe on the Crucified, with good reason enjoy a far greater benefit. For this7 takes place, not through the weakness of the Crucified, or because the Jews are stronger than He, but because “God loved the world,” therefore is His living Temple fastened to the Cross.
Jn 3,15. “That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
Seest thou the cause of the Crucifixion, and the salvation which is by it? Seest thou the relationship of the type to the reality? there the Jews escaped death, but the temporal, here believers the eternal; there the hanging serpent healed the bites of serpents, here the Crucified Jesus cured the wounds inflicted by the spiritual8 dragon; there he who looked with his bodily eyes was healed, here he who beholds with the eyes of his understanding put off all his sins; there that which hung was brass fashioned into the likeness of a serpent, here it was the Lord’s Body, builded by the Spirit; there a serpent bit and a serpent healed, here death destroyed and a Death saved. But the snake which destroyed had venom, that which saved was free from venom; and so again was it here, for the death which slew us had sin with it, as the serpent had venom; but the Lord’s Death was free from all sin, as the brazen serpent from venom. For, saith Peter, “He did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth.” (1P 2,22). And this is what Paul also declares, “And having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” (Col 2,16). For as some noble champion by lifting on high and dashing down his antagonist, renders his victory more glorious, so Christ, in the sight of all the world, cast down the adverse powers, and having healed those who were smitten in the wilderness, delivered them from all venomous beasts9 that vexed them, by being hung upon the Cross. Yet He did not say, “must hang,” but, “must be lifted up” (Ac 28,4); for He used this which seemed the milder term, on account of His hearer, and because it was proper to the type. 10
Jn 3,16. “God,” He saith, “so loved the world that He gave His Only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
What He saith, is of this kind: Marvel not that I am to be lifted up that ye may be saved, for this seemeth good to the Father, and He hath so loved you as to give His Son for slaves, and ungrateful slaves. Yet a man would not do this even for a friend, nor readily even for a righteous man; as Paul has declared when he said, “Scarcely for a righteous man will one die.” (Rm 5,7). Now he spoke at greater length, as speaking to believers, but here Christ speaks concisely, because His discourse was directed to Nicodemus, but still in a more significant manner, for each word had much significance. For by the expression, “so loved,” and that other, “God the world,” He shows the great strength of His love. Large and infinite was the interval between the two. He, the immortal, who is without beginning, the Infinite Majesty, they but dust and ashes, full of ten thousand sins, who, ungrateful, have at all times offended Him; and these He “loved.” Again, the words which He added after these are alike significant, when He saith, that “He gave His Only-begotten Son,” not a servant, not an Angel, not an Archangel. And yet no one would show such anxiety for his own child, as God did for His ungrateful servants.
His Passion then He sets before him not very openly, but rather darkly; but the advantage of the Passion He adds in a clearer manner, 11 saying, “That every one that believeth in Him. should not perish, but have everlasting life.” For when He had said, “must be lifted up,” and alluded to death, test the hearer should be made downcast by these words, forming some mere human opinions concerning Him, and supposing that His death was a ceasing to be, 12 observe how He sets this right, by saying, that He that was given was “The Son of God,” and the cause of life, of everlasting life. He who procured life for others by death, would not Himself be continually in death; for if they who believed on the Crucified perish not, much less doth He perish who is crucified. He who taketh away the destitution of others much more is He free from it; He who giveth life to others, much more to Himself doth He well forth life. Seest thou that everywhere there is need of faith? For He calls the Cross the fountain of life; which reason cannot easily allow, as the heathens now by their mocking testify. But faith which goes beyond the weakness of reasoning, may easily receive and retain it. And whence did God “so love the world”? From no other source but on]y from his goodness.
[3.] Let us now be abashed at His love, let us be ashamed at the excess of His lovingkindness, since He for our sakes spared not His Only-begotten Son, yet we spare our wealth to our own injury; He for us gave His Own Son, but we for Him do not so much as despise money, nor even for ourselves. And how can these things deserve pardon? If we see a man submitting to sufferings and death for us, we set him before all others, count him among our chief friends, place in his hands all that is ours, and deem it rather his than ours, and even so do not think that we give him the return that he deserves. But towards Christ we do not preserve even this degree of right feeling. He laid down His life for us, and poured forth His precious Blood for our sakes, who were neither well-disposed nor good, while we do not pour out even our money for our own sakes, and neglect Him who died for us, when He is naked and a stranger; and who shall deliver us from the punishment that is to come? For suppose that it were not God that punishes, but that we punished ourselves; should we not give our vote against ourselves? should we not sentence ourselves to the very fire of hell, for allowing Him who laid down His life for us, to pine with hunger? But why speak I of money? had we ten thousand lives, ought we not to lay them all down for Him? and yet not even so could we do what His benefits deserve. For he who confers a benefit in the first instance, gives evident proof of his kindness, but he who has received one, whatever return he makes, he repays as a debt, and does not bestow as a favor; especially when he who did the first good turn was benefiting his enemies. And he who repays both bestows his gifts on a benefactor, and himself reaps their fruit besides. 13 But not even this induces us; more foolish are we than any, putting golden necklaces about our servants and mules and horses, and neglecting our Lord who goes about naked, and passes from door to door, and ever stands at our outlets, and stretches forth His hands to us, but often regarding Him with unpitying eye; yet these very things He undergoeth for our sake. Gladly 14 doth He hunger that thou mayest be fed; naked doth He go that He may provide for thee the materials 15 for a garment of incorruption, yet not even so do ye give up any of your own. Some of your garments are moth-eaten, others are a load to your coffers, and a needless trouble to their possessors, while He who gave you these and all else that you possess goeth naked.
But perhaps you do not lay them by in your coffers, but wear them and make yourself fine with them. And what gain you by this? Is it that the street people may see you? What then? They will not admire thee who wearest such apparel, but the man who supplies garments to the needy; so if you desire to be admired, by clothing others, you will the rather get infinite applause. Then too God as well as man shall praise thee; now none can praise, but all will grudge at thee, seeing thee with a body well arrayed, but having a neglected soul. So harlots have adornment, and their clothes are often more than usually expensive and splendid; but the adornment of the soul is with those only who live in virtue.
These things I say continually, and I will not cease to say them, not so much because I care for the poor, as because I care for your souls. For they will have some comfort, if not from you, yet from some other quarter; or even if they be not comforted, but perish by hunger, the harm to them will be no great matter. What did poverty and wasting by hunger injure Lazarus! But none can rescue you from hell, if you obtain not the help of the poor; 16 we shall say to you what was said to the rich man, who was continually broiling, yet gained no comfort. God grant that none ever hear those words, but that all may go into the bosom of Abraham; by the grace and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom and with whom, to the Father and the Holy Ghost, be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
1 al. “touch.”
3 i.e. the new Birth).
4 i.e. how is this connected with what has gone before?
5 to; pa`n.
6 i.e. of the Passion.
7 i.e. the Crucifixion.
10 ejggu;" tou` tuvpou).
11 al. “clearly and openly.”
14 lit. “sweetly.”
16 al. “the hungry.”
"For God sent not His Son to condemn the world, but to save the world."
[I.] Many of the more careless sort of persons, using the lovingkindness of God to increase the magnitude of their sins and the excess of their disregard, speak in this way, “There is no hell, there is no future punishment, God forgives us all sins.” To stop whose mouths a wise man says, “Say not, His mercy is great, He will be pacified for the multitude of my sins; for mercy and wrath come from Him, and His indignation resteth upon sinners” (Si 5,6): and again, “As His mercy is great, so is His correction also.” (Si 16,12). “Where then,” saith one, “is His lovingkindness, if we shall receive for our sins according to our deserts?” That we shall indeed receive “according to our deserts,” hear both the Prophet and Paul declare; one says, “Thou shalt render to every man according to his work” (Ps 62,12 LXX).; the other, “Who will render to every man according to his work.” (Rm 2,6). And yet we may see that even so the lovingkindness of God is great; in dividing our existence3 into two periods,4 the present life and that which is to come, and making the first to be an appointment of trial, the second a place of crowning, even in this He hath shown great lovingkindness.
“How and in what way?” Because when we had committed many and grievous sins, and had not ceased from youth to extreme old age to defile our souls with ten thousand evil deeds, for none of these sins did He demand from us a reckoning, but granted us remission of them by the washing5 of Regeneration, and freely gave us Righteousness and Sanctification. “What then,” says one, “if a man who from his earliest age has been deemed worthy of the mysteries, after this commits ten thousand sins?” Such an one deserves a severer punishment. For we do not pay the same penalties for the same sins, if we do wrong after Initiation.6 And this Paul declares, saying, “He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses; of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the Covenant an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?” (He 10,28, He 10,29). Such an one then is worthy of severer punishment.7 Yet even for him God hath opened doors of repentance, and hath granted him many means for the washing away his transgressions, if he will. Think then what proofs of lovingkindness these are; by Grace to remit sins, and not to punish him who after grace has sinned and deserves punishment, but to give him a season and appointed space for his clearing.8 For all these reasons Christ said to Nicodemus, “God sent not His Son to condemn the world, but to save the world.”
For there are two Advents of Christ, that which has been, and that which is to be; and the two are not for the same purpose; the first came to pass not that He might search into our actions, but that He might remit; the object of the second will be not to remit, but to enquire. Therefore of the first He saith, “I came not to condemn the world, but to save the world” (c. iii. 17); but of the second, “When the Son shall have come in the glory of His Father,9 He shall set the sheep on His right hand, and the goats on His left.” (Mt 25,31 and Mt 25,46). And they shall go, these into life; and these into eternal punishment. Yet His former coming was for judgment, according to the rule of justice. Why? Because before His coming there was a law of nature, and the prophets, and moreover a written Law, and doctrine, and ten thousand promises, and manifestations of signs, and chastisements, and vengeances, and many other things which might have set men right, and it followed that for all these things He would demand account; but, because He is merciful, He for a while pardons instead of making enquiry. For had He done so, all would at once have been hurried to perdition. For “all,” it saith, “have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Rom. iii 23). Seest thou the unspeakable excess of His lovingkindness?
Jn 3,18. “He that believeth on the Son, 10 is not judged; 11 but he that believeth not, is judged already.”
Yet if He “came not to judge the world,” how is “he that believeth not judged already,” if the time of “judgment” has not yet arrived? He either means this, that the very fact of disbelieving without repentance is a punishment, (for to be without the light, contains in itself a very severe punishment,) or he announces beforehand what shall be. For as the murderer, though he be not as yet condemned by the decision of the judge, is still condemned by the nature of the thing, so is it with the unbeliever. Since Adam also died on the day that he ate of the tree; for so ran the decree, “In the day that ye eat of the tree, ye shall die” (Gn 2,17 LXX).; yet he lived. How then “died” he? By the decree; by the very nature of the thing; for he who has rendered himself liable to punishment, is under its penalty, and if for a while not actually so, yet he is by the sentence.
Lest any one on hearing, “I came not to judge the world,” should imagine that he might sin unpunished, and should so become more careless, Christ stops 12 such disregard by saying, “is judged already”; and because the “judgment” was future and not yet at hand, He brings near the dread of vengeance, and describes the punishment as already come. And this is itself a mark of great lovingkindness, that He not only gives His Son, but even delays the time of judgment, that they who have sinned, and they who believe not, may have power to, wash away their transgressions.
“He that believeth on the Son, is not judged.” He that “believeth,” not he that is over-curious: he that “believeth,” not the busybody. But what if his life be unclean, and his deeds evil? It is of such as these especially that Paul declares, that they are not true believers at all: “They profess that they know God, but in works they deny Him.” (Tt 1,16). But here Christ saith, that such an one is not “judged” in this one particular; for his works indeed he shall suffer a severer punishment, but having believed once, he is not chastised for unbelief.
[2.] Seest thou how having commenced His discourse with fearful things, He has concluded it again with the very same? for at first He saith, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God”: and here again, “He that believeth not on the Son, is judged already.” “Think not,” He saith, “that the delay advantageth at all the guilty, except he repent, for he that hath not believed, shall be in no better state than those who are already condemned and under punishment.”
Jn 3,19. “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light.”
What He saith, is of this kind: “they are punished, because they would not leave the darkness, and hasten to the light.” And hence He goes on to deprive them of all excuse for the future: “Had I come,” saith He, “to punish and to exact account of their deeds, they might have been able to say, ‘this is why we started away from thee,’ but now I am come to free them from darkness, and to bring them to the light; who then could pity one who will not come from darkness unto light? When they have no charge to bring against us, but have received ten thousand benefits, they start away from us.” And this charge He hath brought in another place, where He saith, “They hated Me without a cause” (Jn 15,25): and again, “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin.” (Jn 15,22). For he who in the absence of light sitteth in darkness, may perchance receive pardon; but one who after it is come abides by the darkness, produces against himself a certain proof of a perverse and contentious disposition. Next, because His assertion would seem incredible to most, (for none would prefer “darkness to light,”) He adds the cause of such a feeling in them. What is that?
Jn 3,19-20. “Because,” He saith, “their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil, hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.”
Yet he came not to judge or to enquire, but to pardon and remit transgressions, and to grant salvation through faith. How then fled they? 13 Had He come and sat in His Judgment seat, what He said might have seemed reasonable; for he that is conscious to himself of evil deeds, is wont to fly his judge. But, on the contrary, they who have transgressed even run to one who is pardoning. If therefore He came to pardon, those would naturally most hasten to Him who were conscious to themselves of many transgressions; and indeed this was the case with many, for even publicans and sinners sat at meat with Jesus. What then is this which He saith? He saith this of those who choose always to remain in wickedness. He indeed came, that He might forgive men’s former sins, and secure them against those to come; but since there are some so relaxed, 14 so powerless for the toils of virtue, that they desire to abide by wickedness till their latest breath, and never cease from it, He speaks in this place reflecting 15 upon these. “For since,” He saith, “the profession of Christianity requires besides right doctrine a sound conversation also, they fear to come over to us, because they like not to show forth a righteous life. Him that lives in heathenism none would blame, because with gods such as he has, and with rites as foul and ridiculous as his gods, he shows forth actions that suit his doctrines; but those who belong to the True God, if they live a careless life, have all men to call them to account, and to accuse them. So greatly do even its enemies admire the truth.” Observe, then, how exactly He layeth down what He saith. His expression is, not “He that hath done evil cometh not to the light,” but “he that doeth it always, he that desireth always to roll himself in the mire of sin, he will not subject himself to My laws, but chooses to stay without, and to commit fornication without fear, and to do all other forbidden things. For if he comes to Me, he becomes manifest as a thief in the light, and therefore he avoids My dominion.” For instance, even now one may hear many heathen say, “that they cannot come to our faith, because they cannot leave off drunkenness and fornication, and the like disorders.”
“Well,” says some one, “but are there no Christians that do evil, and heathens that live discreetly?” 16 That there are Christians who do evil, I know; but whether there are heathens who live a righteous life, I do not yet know assuredly. For do not speak to me of those who by nature are good and orderly, (this is not virtue,) but tell me of the man who can endure the exceeding violence of his passions and (yet) be temperate. 17 You cannot. For if the promise of a Kingdom, and the threat of hell, and so much other provision; 18 can scarcely keep men in virtue, they will hardly go after virtue who believe in none of these things. Or, if any pretend to do so, they do it for show; and he who doth so for show, will not, when he may escape observation, refrain from indulging his evil desires. However, that we may not seem to any to be contentious, let us grant that there are right livers among the heathen; for neither doth this go against my argument, since I spoke of that which occurs in general, not of what happens rarely.
And observe how in another way He deprives them of all excuse, when He saith that, “the light came into the world.” “Did they seek it themselves,” He saith, “did they toil, did they labor to find it? The light itself came to them, and not even so would they hasten to it.” And if there be some Christians who live wickedly, I would argue that He doth not say this of those who have been Christians from the beginning, and who have inherited true religion from their forefathers, (although even these for the most part have been shaken from 19 right doctrine by their evil life,) yet still I think that He doth not now speak concerning these, but concerning the heathen and the Jews who ought to have come 20 to the right faith. For He showeth that no man living in error would choose to come to the truth unless he before had planned 21 for himself a righteous life, and that none would remain in unbelief unless he had previously chosen always to be wicked.
Do not tell me that a man is temperate, and does not rob; these things by themselves are not virtue. For what advantageth it, if a man has these things, and yet is the slave of vainglory, and remains in his error, from fear of the company of his friends? This is not right living. The slave of a reputation 22 is no less a sinner than the fornicator; nay, he worketh more and more grievous deeds than he. But tell me of any one that is free from all passions and from all iniquity, and who remains among the heathen. Thou canst not do so; for even those among them who have boasted great things, and who have, as they say, 23 mastered avarice or gluttony, have been, most of all men, the slaves of reputation, 24 and this is the cause of all evils. Thus it is that the Jews also have continued Jews; for which cause Christ rebuked them and said, “How can ye believe, which receive honor from men?” (c. 5,44).
“And why, pray, did He not speak on these matters with Nathanael, to whom He testified of the truth, nor extend His discourse to any length?” Because even he came not with such zeal as did Nicodemus. For Nicodemus made this his work, 25 and the season which others used for rest he made a season for hearing; but Nathanael came at the instance of another. Yet not even him did Jesus entirely pass by, for to him He saith, “Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (c. 1,51). But to Nicodemus He spake not so, but conversed with him on the Dispensation and on eternal life, addressing each differently and suitably to the condition of his will. It was sufficient for Nathanael, because he knew the writings of the prophets, and was not so timid either, to hear only thus far; but because Nicodemus was as yet possessed by fear, Christ did not indeed clearly reveal to him the whole, but shook his mind so as to cast out fear by fear, declaring that he who did not believe was being judged, 26 and that unbelief proceeded from an evil conscience. For since he made great account of honor from men, more than he did of the punishment; (“Many,” saith the Evangelist, “of the rulers believed on Him, but because of the Jews they did not confess”—c. 12,42;) on this point Christ toucheth him, saying, “It cannot be that he who believeth not on Me disbelieveth for any other cause save that he liveth an unclean life.” Farther on He saith, “I am the Light” (c. 8,12), but here, “the Light came into the world”; for at the beginning He spoke somewhat darkly, but afterwards more clearly. Yet even so the man was kept back by regard for the opinion of the many, and therefore could not endure to speak boldly as he ought.
Fly we then vainglory, for this is a passion more tyrannical than any. Hence spring covetousness and love of wealth, hence hatred and wars and strifes; for he that desires more than he has, will never be able to stop, and he desires from no other cause, but only from his love of vainglory. For tell me, why do so many encircle themselves with multitudes of eunuchs, and herds of slaves, and much show? Not because they need it, but that they may make those who meet them witnesses of this unseasonable display. If then we cut this off, we shall slay together with the head the other members also of wickedness, and there will be nothing to hinder us from dwelling on earth as though it were heaven. Nor doth this vice merely thrust its captives into wickedness, but is even co-existent 27 with their virtues, and when it is unable entirely to cast us out of these, it still causeth us much damage in the very exercise of them, forcing us to undergo the toil, and depriving us of the fruit. For he that with an eye to this, fasts, and prays, and shows mercy, has his reward. What can be more pitiable than a loss like this, that it should befall man to bewail 28 himself uselessly and in vain, and to become an object of ridicule, and to lose the glory from above? Since he that aims at both cannot obtain both. It is indeed possible to obtain both, when we desire not both, but one only, that from heaven; but he cannot obtain both, who longs for both. Wherefore if we wish to attain to glory, let us flee from human glory, and desire that only which cometh from God; so shall we obtain both the one and the other; which may we all enjoy, through the grace and loving kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom and with whom, to the Father and the Holy Ghost, be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
1 [eij" to;n kovsmon, G. T.]
2 i((na swqh` oJ kovsmo" diAE aujtou`, G. T.
3 jta; hJmevtera.
5 or, “laver.”
7 Morel). “he then will be more severely punished who has sinned after grace.”
8 proqesmivan ajpologija").
9 th`/ doxh` aujtou`. G. T.
10 eiJ" aujto;n, G. T.
11 or, “condemned,” E. V.
12 lit). “walls off.”
13 Morel). “therefore they fled to their own hurt.”
14 lit “flaccid.”
16 ejn filosofiva/.
18 al). “doctrine.”
20 al). “shifted themselves.”
21 uvpogravya". al). ejpigravya".
22 or, “glory.”
23 or, “thou sayest.”
24 or, “glory.”
25 i.e. his one great object.
Chrysostom on John 26