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John iii. 1--5.
NICODEMUS IS ASSURED OF THE NECESSITY OF
1. There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews :
2. 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.
3. 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.
We may feel assured that these words, though they convey a general truth applicable to all mankind, were especially suited to the frame of mind in which Nicodemus came to Jesus. As we were lately told, “ He needed not that any should testify of man ; for he knew what was in man :' and therefore he addressed his language to the case of the individual inquirer. What then may we suppose to have been the character of Nicodemus? He was a man of the Pharisees, a ruler of the Jews : accustomed, therefore, to think highly of himself in comparison of others; accustomed to believe himself safe in God's favour ; confident, perhaps, that he was, “ according to the
righteousness which is of the law, blameless." And how surprised would a person of such disposition be, when he heard from the lips of one whom he knew to be a teacher sent from God, Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. A change must take place in him, which can only be compared to his being born anew, before he can be a member of that kingdom of God which is now come nigh unto you.
We may suppose, perhaps, that there was some idiom in language, some customary form of speech, which made this sentence appear less strong and forcible to Nicodemus, than it appears to us now. Men are apt to explain away in this manner that which they do not like to understand. It was not so, however. We perceive by what follows, that he took it in its broadest and most literal meaning.
4. 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 ?
5. 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.
Here then is the explanation : Jesus had said, Ye must be born again. He repeats it, and declares that a man cannot enter into the kingdom of God, except he be born of water and of the Spirit : except he be renewed by the Spirit cleansing and purifying him : unless an effect is produced upon the heart like that which water produces upon the body, and it is cleansed from its natural pollution.
They are remarkable expressions :--to be born again, born of water and of the Spirit :—but they exactly describe the thing intended. A man is first born“ of blood, of the will of the flesh, of the will of man.” But he is born corrupt ; the offspring of a corrupt parent. As we are told presently, “ That which is born of the flesh, is flesh.” He must be born again of water and of the Spirit :-of water, inasmuch as he was born impure, and must now be cleansed :-of the Spirit, inasmuch as he must be “ renewed in the spirit of his mind.” The water cleanses, “the Spirit giveth life.” The water represents that purification which he needs, and which is bestowed through the blood of Christ. The Spirit enables him to walk as one who is “ purged from his old sins," his corrupt nature, and is mortifying the flesh with its affections and lusts, and living not to this world, but unto God.
For this reason, our Lord appointed as the entrance into his religion, a rite which should be an emblem of this change. He sent his disciples into all the world, BAPTIZING.
Baptism was no new ordinance, otherwise we should have more account of its introduction. It was explained in a former lecture, that baptism had been practised among the Jews, when one who had lived a heathen came to acknowledge the living and true God, and gave up the idols which he had been used to serve. Before he was admitted to their religion, he was baptized – immersed in water. He had been polluted by idolatry, and all its attendant wickedness; from this he must be purified. And his immersion in water was an emblem of the purification which he required and received. It did not purify—but it prefigured and betokened purification. It was an emblematical action, signifying, that as the water cleanses the defilement of the body, so must the corruption which has defiled the soul be purged and cleansed. And such is the declaration to Nicodemus, Except a man be born again, born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Except a man be so truly renewed, that you may term him a new creature : except he be as thoroughly purified by the effusion of the Spirit on his soul, as his body would be purified by immersion in a stream of water; he cannot enter into the kingdom of God, that kingdom which Nicodemus was inquiring of. He may esteem himself-perhaps Nicodemus did—clean in the sight of God: but he needs a cleansing which he can only receive from the Spirit, through faith in the Son of God, before he can belong to God's heavenly kingdom. This
may be best illustrated, by considering the case of some who were thus born again.
The Jewish assembly, addressed by St. Peter (Acts ii. 14, &c.) became convinced of the wickedness in which they had been led to concur; and “ being pricked in their hearts, said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
The idea of baptism was not strange or new to this assembly. They had known that proselytes from the heathen were baptized, when they turned from idols, and entered into the service of the living and true God, revealed to the Jewish nation. The heathen washed away the corruption of their idolatrous traditions. And these must wash away the corruption of prejudice and unbelief and hardness of heart, which had led them to “ crucify the Prince of life.” They must make this acknowledgment, that they required to be cleansed by the water of regeneration ; and were to rise out of it as “ new creatures," from whom “old things had passed away
“ Then they that gladly received his word, were baptized.” Was it too much to say, they were born again? They had crucified Jesus : now they worshipped him. They had prided themselves in God's favour : now they humbled themselves, and entreated remission of their sins. They were enabled, for the sake of that future life now set before them, to fix their affections, not on the things that are seen, but on the inheritance which is above. They were indeed new creatures : before they had lived for earth, now for heaven. " All that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.”
Another example occurs in the case of the Ethiopian who was returning from his worship at Jerusalem. (Acts viii.) He had learnt through the Jewish scriptures to serve God. But as yet he knew nothing of the Redeemer. A particular commission was given to Philip, as a Christian teacher, to explain to him the doctrine of the