1.Now there was a man of the Pharisees. In the person of Nicodemus the Evangelist now exhibits to our view how vain and fleeting was the faith of those who, having been excited by miracles, suddenly professed to be the disciples of Christ. For since this man was of the order of the Pharisees, and held the rank of a ruler in his nation, he must have been far more excellent than others. The common people, for the most part, are light and unsteady; but who would not have thought that he who had learning and experience was also a wise and prudent man? Yet from Christ’ reply it is evident, that nothing was farther from his design in coming than a desire to learn the first principles of religion. If he who was a ruler among men is less than a child, what ought we to think of the multitude at large? Now though the design of the Evangelist was, to exhibit, as in a mirror, how few there were in Jerusalem who were properly disposed to receive the Gospel, yet, for other reasons, this narrative is highly useful to us; and especially because it instructs us concerning the depraved nature of mankind, what is the proper entrance into the school of Christ, and what must be the commencement of our training to make progress in the heavenly doctrine. For the sum of Christ’ discourse is, that, in order that we may be his true disciples, we must become new men. But, before proceeding farther, we must ascertain from the circumstances which are here detailed by the Evangelist, what were the obstacles which prevented Nicodemus from giving himself unreservedly to Christ.
Of the Pharisees. This designation was, no doubt, regarded by his countrymen as honorable to Nicodemus; but it is not for the sake of honor that it is given to him by the Evangelist, who, on the contrary, draws our attention to it as having prevented him from coming freely and cheerfully to Christ. Hence we are reminded that they who occupy a lofty station in the world are, for the most part, entangled by very dangerous snares; nay, we see many of them held so firmly bound, that not even the slightest wish or prayer arises from them towards heaven throughout their whole life. Why they were called Pharisees we have elsewhere explained; (54) for they boasted of being the only expounders of the Law, as if they were in possession, of the marrow and hidden meaning of Scripture; and for that reason they called themselves
פרושים (Perushim.) Though the Essenes led a more austere life, which gained them a high reputation for holiness; yet because, like hermits, they forsook the ordinary life and custom of men, the sect of the Pharisees was on that account held in higher estimation. Besides, the Evangelist mentions not only that Nicodemus was of the order of the Pharisees, but that he was one of the rulers of his nation.
(54) Our Author’ views of the etymology of the term are fully stated and examined, Harmony, volume 1 page 281; but it cannot be supposed that this Commentary on the Gospel by John, which appeared in the year 1553, makes reference to the Harmony, which did not appear till 1555. The priority of the date (1548) of the Commentary on the Epistle to the Philippians more naturally sends us to consult that passage, in which Paul says that he was a Pharisee, (3:5.) — Ed.