If I have told you earthly things, and you believe not, how shall you believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?
All Commentaries on John 3:12 Go To John 3
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 near to 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 admit 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 you believe not, how shall you believe if I tell you of heavenly things? so that wherever He says 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 you did not even so believe, how shall you 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, You have not understood, but, You 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 Generation 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 knows 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 has 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? asks one. The very closest, and entirely in unison with what has gone before. For since Nicodemus had said, We know that You are 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 has ascended up there, but I dwell there. Do you see 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 Person often from His Divinity, and often from His humanity.