Sermons Menu | Biography
J. W. Whitney
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
"There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth" (John 1:1-14).
"There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again" (John 3:1-7).
This is a message by Jesus to one man, Nicodemus. He did not refuse to preach because the crowd was too small. Let us remember that Nicodemus was not a Gentile. He was a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews. To be a ruler of the Jews, he must also have been a member of the Sanhedrin, the highest ecclesiastical court in Israel.
Israel had a theocratic form of government. The same law that governed the church governed the nation. The Sanhedrin was composed of seventy-two men who made up the judicial, executive, and legislative branches of the government. Their law was the law that God gave to Moses on the mount.
Nicodemus was no ordinary man. He was of high rank in the church, but Jesus told him just what he needed to know. It must have been quite a setback to him. You will notice that he came to Jesus by night. The Bible is silent as to why, so we can only guess. Being a man of great authority and a member of the government, he did not care to be seen with this man and His little band of followers, going about so plainly dressed. He did not want to bear the reproach. One reason I think he was afraid of reproach was that every time after that, when his name is mentioned in the Bible, he is referred to as "he that came to Jesus by night." Here was a man who had come to the Master, though no doubt most of his political associates would have ridiculed him. He might even have been in danger of losing his job, for the rulers of those days were opposed to Christ. But Nicodemus had heard of some of the miracles that Christ had performed. He might have been there when Jesus turned the water into wine.
When Christ told him that he needed to be born again, he didn't seem to grasp the meaning of what the Master had said. That is why he asked in verse four, "How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?" No doubt he thought that Jesus would bring about the transformation by means of a miracle. He did not go away saying that it was impossible. He was not like those who heard Jesus say that they could destroy the temple and He would raise it up again in three days. Those people went away in disgust. When Nicodemus came to Jesus, he made mention of His miracles and said, "No man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him." We see then that the miracles not only attracted him, but they made him a believer.
Jesus answered his question this way, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit" (John 3:5-8).
Jesus gave him an illustration that was very simple, but one that he could understand. He knew that no man could see the wind, yet it would be impossible to convince him or anyone else that the wind was not blowing. One can both feel it and see the things that it does. If a man were caught in a tornado and houses were being blown down and trees blown out by the roots, he would not ask what caused it. The same thing is true with the kingdom of God; you can tell the kingdom of God by the people that belong to it. The Bible tells us, "Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them" (Matthew 7:20).
The Master told Nicodemus in John 3:5, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." Now we realize that all Scripture is to be taken literally unless there is some good reason for taking it symbolically; and we believe that in the case of this Scripture, the word water should be taken symbolically for several reasons.
In the fourth chapter of John we read that Jesus came to Jacob's well and, being weary from the journey, sat down there. "There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink. (For his disciples were gone away unto the city to buy meat.) Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans. Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water? . . . Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water [meaning the water in the well] shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life" (John 4:7-11, 13-14). We notice here that water is used as a symbol of the Word. Water could not spring up into everlasting life. Christ was not giving her water, he was giving her the Word. He was the Word that was made flesh and dwelt among us.
"For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8). When Christ destroys the works of the devil in us, then eternal life springs up. Nothing else will destroy the works of the devil but the Word of God.
All through the Bible the Word is used as the begetter of the new birth. Let us remember that in the first chapter of John's gospel we read, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). John was talking about the Son, and in verse 14, John tells us, "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." Up until the time that Christ became flesh, He was coexistent with God. He was with Him in the beginning. We are told in Hebrews 5:6, "Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec." Now Melchisedec was coexistent with God, for we are told in Hebrews 7:3 that he was "Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually." Since Christ was with God in the beginning, He was not created; He was coexistent with God.
He was begotten of the Father through the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. "And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35). "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).
We read in Acts 4:12, "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." In James 1:18 we read, "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures." In 1 Peter 1:23 we read, "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever."
If water is used symbolically in John 3, what is it symbolizing? I answer that it is a symbol of the purifying, cleansing Word of God that was made manifest to us in the flesh. If I have given enough Scripture to prove that the Word is the begetter of the new birth, then in our language the text would read like this: "Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of the Word and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."
Now many believe that the kingdom of God as referred to in the text is the kingdom of heaven. Listen to this Scripture on the kingdom of God. "For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost" (Romans 14:17). "And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:20-21).
I once heard a man take thirty minutes to try to prove that the kingdom of God was not to be set up until after the tribulation. I just wanted to quote him some Scripture on that subject. Do you suppose that Christ would have gone to all the trouble of telling Nicodemus that he would have to be born again before he could enter into the kingdom of God if it was not going to be set up until after the great tribulation? Instead, He tried to make it plain by explaining to him that it was in a way like the wind. It was easy to see the power of the wind by the things that it did. It could uproot trees and blow down houses. It was easy to see the power that the wind had, but it was impossible to see the wind.
Nicodemus was expecting Christ to set up a kingdom here on this earth and restore it to the Jews. Since Nicodemus was a Jew, that was what interested him. That was what the Jews expected the Messiah to do when He came.
Now the last kingdom will come by observation, but the kingdom of God is set up in our hearts. Of course we will have to have the kingdom of God within us before we can get into the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of God is not a temporal kingdom; neither is it the kingdom of heaven as many seem to think.
When Jesus was before Pilate, the Governor, he asked Jesus, "Art thou the King of the Jews? Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me? . . . Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence" (John 18:33-34, 36). His kingdom was not of the Jews. His kingdom was from God and was a spiritual kingdom to be set up in the hearts of the people that accept Christ as their Savior.
Whoever is in the kingdom is a child of God. That is what Christ meant when He told the woman at the well that "the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him" (John 4:23).
There are some people who take the word water literally, but we believe that the Scripture given above shows that it is used here in a typical sense. Those who believe that John 3:5 should be taken literally believe that water here means baptism. If that is true, then water baptism would come before we were born again. They believe that we cannot be saved until after we are baptized.
We read in 1 Peter 3:21, "The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." Baptism is a type of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This verse says that it is not the putting away of the filth of the flesh but the answer of a good conscience toward God. Water only puts away the filth of the flesh.
Until we are saved, we are dead spiritually in trespasses and sins. A dead person does not have a good conscience toward God until he is born of the Spirit. Being born of the flesh does not count. That is why Jesus told Nicodemus that they that are born of the flesh are flesh and they that are born of the Spirit are spirit. We died spiritually when Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, and every person who has been born since that time is dead spiritually and will be until he is born of the Spirit. After we have been born of the Spirit, we are at peace with God.
Paul told the church at Rome, "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). We see then that we are not at peace with God until we have been born again. Why do we have to be born again? Because we are dead in trespasses and sins. A dead person cannot have a good conscience toward God.
We have a beautiful type of the new birth in the first chapter of Genesis. "And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light" (Genesis 1:2-3). We see that the first thing that ever brought light to this world was the Word of God.
"All things were made by him [Jesus]; and without him was not any thing made that was made" (John 1:3). In creation He was called God. When He came to earth, John called Him the Word. Every soul that has been saved or will be saved is saved through Him. "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
I believe that I have given enough Scripture to prove conclusively that the word water as it is used in John 3:5 had no reference to water baptism, but was a symbol of the Word of God, for He is the only One whereby we must be saved.
When Christ came to this world for the purpose of setting up a kingdom, it was to be a spiritual kingdom and not a temporal kingdom. It was the beginning of the present dispensation which is the Holy Ghost dispensation that is ruled from heaven through the leading of the Holy Spirit. This is the dispensation when the law of God is written in the hearts of His people. "Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them" (Hebrews 10:15-16). Instead of being governed by the law of Moses, they were to be led by the law of God that He put into their hearts.
I thank God for this Holy Ghost and that I was permitted to live in the Holy Ghost dispensation. That is the reason that Christ said in John 4:24, "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."
His law is written in the heart of every child of God, and His law is written in His heart. He tells us that His Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God, and if children then heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. (See Romans 8:16-17.)
May the good Lord bless you greatly as you read this after I am gone. It has blessed my soul as I have written it, not knowing whether it will ever be read; but at least I feel better after having written it.
© 1957 J. W. Whitney
Click here if you have a question for Pastor Elvin Dillard (great grandson of J. W. Whitney).
All Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version (KJV).
For clarity and ease of reading, this sermon has been edited and condensed by Barbara Carpenter and Wynona Haun (granddaughters of J. W. Whitney) with special help from Elvin Dillard and Marie Haun. The author's primary message remains.
Please feel free to duplicate the sermon for
nonprofit purposes, and be sure to include the credits and Web
address on all reproductions. You are welcome to contact us with
questions and comments.