« PreviousContinue »
trine of the gospel, respecting its operations on the mind of man; Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Our Saviour, by these remarkable words, may
supposed to inform the ruler of Israel, that though the justre of his miracles had forced him to acknowledge, that he had received his commission from on high, yet he could not discern, that he really was the Messiah, nor understand the spiritual nature of his kingdom, without the operation of a supernatural power, which must produce such a change in his soul, as might fitly be described by being born again. Nicodemus, being an utter stranger to this doctrine, and thinking our Lord's words had no figurative allusion, but had reference to a natural birth, was very much surprised at the assertion; for he could not imagine that the seed of Abraham stood in need of any second tirth, to render them the children of God, and the heirs of his kingdom; and therefore hastily and earnestly inquired, How can a man be born when he is old; can he enter a second time into his mother's womb, and be born ? Our Lord then proceeded to inform him, that his words had not a natural, but a spiritual meaning, Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, said he, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus might learn, from these words, that his apprehensions were gross and wide from the purpose; for if it were possible for a man to be born a second time of his earthly parent, he would not thereby become so holy and pure, as would render him fit for the kingdom of God; but the birth our Redeemer had reference to, was of a spiritual nature, which, by producing that faith which has a lively and powerful influence on the heart and life, might prepare the possessors of it for the divine acceptance: Thut which is born of the flesh is flesh; and lhat which is born of the Spirit is Spirit. Whatever is born of woman, partakes of the imperfections and sinfulness of human nature; but that which is born of the Spirit, is pure and holy, and prevails over those things which render mankind unfit to be para takers of the kingdom of God, by implanting a new and powerful principle of action, and working an entire renovation in the soul, which may very fitly be compared to a new birth. Nicodemus, still continuing full of hesitation and surprise, our Lord proceeded to inform him, that the thing would not appear so mysterious, when rightly understood, as his prejudices induced him to think it was, but might, as to the probability of it, be illustrated by a familiar simile; Marvel not, says he, that I said unto thee, ye must be born again. The wind bloweth were it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell from whench it cometh or whither it goeth ; so is every one that is born of the Spirit: The meaning of these words seems to be, that, though the entire renovation of heart, which Christ's religion required, might seem impossible to the blind eyes of carnal men, it might nevertheless be true : for in the natural world, there are so many things of so fine a texture, that we cannot discern them with our eyes, but it is very manifest that they exist, and they are very great and powerful in their effects. The wind is a thing altogether invisible, no man can behold its body or trace its motion, even when it blows with the greatest violence ; yet that there is such a thing is sufficiently evident, and the effects of it are universally known : thus therefore, that regeneration, or renovation which is wrought in the heart of man, by the powerful agency of the Spirit of God, though, in itself, it be invisible, and not at all discernable by the sight or sense: yet, in its effects, it is a great and plain thing, and really as great and manifest a change in the nature and disposition, the desires and pursuits of the soul, and conducing as much to all the purposes of divine and eternal life, as the birth of man does to this mortal life.
Though these arguments were plain, and not to be evaded or denied, yet Nicodemus retained his prejudices; this system of spiritual religion was contrary
to his apprehensions, nor could he see how the children of Abraham could stand in need of a renovation and change, equal to that which the infant finds, when born, to fit them for the kingdom of God; and therefore, the ruler of Israel, inquired, Ilow can these things be? To which our great Redeemer replied, that it was strange he should be so hard to be instructed, Art Thou a master in Israel, and knowest not these things? Art thou a teacher of others, and yet unable to discern things which I have so plainly revealed ? Our Lord then proceeded to inform him that he was certain of the truth of what he had advanced concerning the new birth, and therefore it ought to be received; but if these plain and easy truths, relating to the spiritual nature of the Messiah's kingdom, were so slowly received by men of the first eminence and understanding in the nation, how would they be able to comprehend the more sublime and noble doctrines of the gospel, which he was come to preach to the sons of men. Our Redeemer further proceeded to inform Nicodemus, that it was the indispensable duty of mankind to attend to his ministry, because he came with superior credentials, and higher authority than ever man had before him. Moses had never ascended into heaven, but received his law from the top of Mount Sinai : none of the ancient prophets had descended from the blessed abodes, to teach mankind; whereas the Son of God came down from heaven, fully commissioned from above : he had been favoured with the clearest and most extensive view of spiritual things, and was fully acquainted with the deepest recesses of the divine councils; nay, at this very time, is present with God in heaven, and at one comprehensive view, beholdest the extent of the universe; he is conscious to all the gracious intentions of the King of heaven towards the human race, and, of consequence, must be superior in authority and dignity to Moses, or any other person who hath appeared in the world
Our great Redeemer, before the conference concluded, took occasion to set the inquiring ruler to rights. respecting the kingdom of the Messiah, concerning which he so much wanted to be informed. Не gave him to understand, that the nation in general, were greatly mistaken in their views of that exalted person setting up a temporal kingdom, and assuming the authority and command of an illustrious and powerful conqueror; on the contrary, this divine teacher explained to Nicodemus, that it was conformable to the language of the ancient prophesy, as well as the councils of heaven, that the Messiah, when he appeared in the world, should be poor and despised; that he should assume no titles of honor, but be exposed to a variety of misery, poverty and wretchedness; and of consequence, his kingdom must not be a temporal but spiritual kingdom; and the deliverance, which he came to procure for his people, was not from temporal evils, but eternal wrath. This deliverance, he proceeded to inform the noble Pharisee, must be
procured by his sufferings and death, by which, whosoever believed on him, would be reinstated in the divine favour, and made eternally happy: but whosoever refused to receive him as their Saviour, and persisted in their obstinacy and their unbelief would certainly perish for ever, and justiy fall into so severe a condemnation, because their unbelief would not arise from want of evidence of the truth of his mission, but from their own inveterate prejudices, and the habitual wickedness of their hearts and lives. He that believeth on him is not condemned, said he, but he that belierell not, is condenined already, because he beliereth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, becuuse their deeds were ecil.
This excellent and pathetic discourse of our Lord, had an effect on Nicodemus proportionable to the importance of it; he not only believed that Jesus was
a teacher sent from God, but was convinced that he was that great person who was to be the Reedeemer of Israel. He constantly defended him in the council; and when Jesus was put to death, by the impious rage, and unexampled cruelty of the Jews, he, in conjunction with Joseph of Arimathea, begged the body of our Lord, of the Roman governor, and bestowed on him the honor of a decent funeral, when all the rest of his disciples had forsaken him.