50.Nicodemus said to them. The Evangelist describes Nicodemus as a neutral man, who does not venture to undertake in good earnest the defense of sound doctrine, and yet cannot endure to have the truth oppressed.
He who came to Jesus by night. This circumstance is mentioned by the Evangelist, partly to the praise, and partly to the disgrace, of Nicodemus. If he had not loved the doctrine of Christ, he would never have dared to meet the rage of wicked men; for he knew that, if any of them but opened his mouth, he would be immediately exposed to dislike and to danger. When, therefore, he ventures to throw out one word, however feeble it may be, some small spark of godliness shines from his heart; but in not defending Christ openly, he manifests excessive timidity. Thus the Evangelist means that he has still a hankering after the concealment of the night, and is not a true disciple of Christ. He says that he once came to Jesus by night, but remained openly among his enemies, and kept his place in their camp.
This ought to be the more carefully observed, because there are many in the present day who plead that they resemble Nicodemus, and hope that, by assuming this mask, they will mock God with impunity. Granting what they ask, that there is no difference between them and Nicodemus, what assistance, pray, do they derive from such an example? Nicodemus says that Christ ought not to be condemned until he be heard; and the same thing might be said of a robber or an assassin; for it is a well-known and proverbial sentiment, that it is better to acquit the innocent than to condemn the guilty. Besides, in his attempts to release the person of Christ, he leaves and abandons the doctrine. What shall we find here that is worthy of a believer or a Christian? (204) Thus the seed of the gospel, which afterwards bore fruit, was still concealed and choked in him. We shall apply this example far more profitably to another purpose, that the Lord frequently causes the doctrine, which seemed to have perished, gradually to take a concealed root, and, after a long period, to put forth some bud, first like an untimely plant, afterwards lively and vigorous; just as the faith of Nicodemus acquired new and sudden vigor from the death of Christ.