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First, he praises himself for not having committed the worst actions. He does not consider that he may often have had the worst thoughts. He says, he was not an extortioner : but, if he loved money, that was just as bad in the sight of God. He was not an adulterer; but our Saviour says, “ He that looketh upon a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”
Next, happening to cast his eyes on the Publican, he sets him down for a very bad character; and cannot help remarking, how much holier he himself is. People, who think well of themselves, are very ready to think hardly of other men. Therefore, when you begin to run down other people, stop, and ask, “ Have I judged myself ? Have I considered how my heart appears before God? Let me have pity on others; for, oh, how much pity and forgiveness do I need myself !”
The Pharisee next praises himself for some outward duties. “I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I possess.” He had the form of godliness; but knew not the power thereof. How little did he know of loving God with all his heart, and his neighbour as himself ! how little, of humility! how little, of the spirit of prayer !
Thus it is that some think they shall go to heaven; because they have lived a respectable life, sometimes said their prayers, or received the sacrament; paid their debts, and been on good terms with their neighbours. They do not know how evil their hearts are before God; and how much they need pardon through Christ, and the gift of a new heart from his Spirit. Such are not in the way to heaven!
The publican was a very different kind of man. He was so burdened with his unworthiness and sin, so ashamed before God, and so deeply pained in his own heart, that he stood afar off, bent down his eyes, and smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner!
How kind is the Saviour, in teaching us this short prayer—so short, that we may easily remember it! These few words contain the sum and substance of repentance, and faith. True Christians often use this prayer, in health, in sickness, and on their death-beds. They have nothing to say of themselves; only, that they are sinners. They never did any good, excepting what they have done by the grace of God. This, therefore, is to the praise of his grace, and leaves them no ground for boasting. But their sins, their infirmities, and failings, are innumerable. This thought fills them with humility and grief. They gladly come to Christ, who gives them remission of sins, and justifies them freelý by his grace. Thus, they glory only in the cross of Christ.
O most holy God, who knowest the very secrets of our hearts; what are we, that ever we should boast ourselves in thy presence, or despise even the poorest of our fellow-sinners! If we are indeed
thy children, it was thy free grace that made us to differ from others. For what have we, that we did not receive ? And how little have we used our privileges to the glory of thy name! Too often we have robbed thee of thy honour, by coveting the praise of our fellow-creatures, and walking in the vanity of our minds.
O bestow on us true humility, and grace to put away all proud thoughts, and all high looks! Enable us, in lowliness of mind, to esteem others better than ourselves. Cause us to remember our former iniquities with shame and confusion of face. Show to us the secret corruptions of our own hearts; and endue us with strength to mortify them. O let that mind be in us, which was also in Christ Jesus ! And let our glorying be in Him, and in his righteousness, now and for ever ! Amen.
REGENERATION; OR, THE NEW BIRTH.
John iii. 1-10. There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews :
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.
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.
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 ?
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.
That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must born again.
The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth : so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?
Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things ? NICODEMUS, who is here spoken of, was a man of great dignity. He belonged to a religious party who were called Pharisees, and who thought themselves more holy than any others. These proud Pharisees could not endure Jesus, because he was so meek and lowly. Many of the common people loved Jesus; and this made the Pharisees envy him still more. But the reason why they hated him most of all, was, because he spoke so much of heart-religion. Jesus condemned them for their pride, covetousness, and hypocrisy: and they, in return, hated Jesus for his plain dealing, and for his genuine holiness. Wicked and proud men, especially when they pretend to holiness, cannot bear those who are truly spiritual, humble and holy. Nicodemus must have found it
difficult to break off from such company. Indeed, he did not dare at first to do it openly. When our neighbours are bitter enemies to the Gospel, it is no wonder
that beginners should be afraid of being thought religious. Still, if Christ has touched our hearts, we shall, in one way or another, feel after him; as men feel about in the dark, to find what they want. It is a blessed sign, when the heart begins to ask, “ Where, and how, may I find my Saviour ?"
We do not hear that Jesus condemned Nicodemus for coming to him, at first, by night. He saw, no doubt, that he was half afraid ; but He saw that there was a spark of grace in his heart, and he would not put it out. No; he fanned it to a flame. He began at once conversing with him about heartreligion. We see, from this, what it is that Jesus considers to be the most necessary of all things : not mere ceremonies; not mere disputing about religion; not mere good behaviour, or reformation of conduct : but, a new heart; a change of heart, from a state of sin to holiness.
Will you permit me to read you some remarks concerning this change of heart? May the Spirit of Christ be our Teacher ! Nicodemus, though perhaps a learned man, was very ignorant on this subject, till his own soul was enlightened by the Holy Spirit. May that same Spirit be your Teacher, and mine!
Jesus said to Nicodemus, “ Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Now, to explain the great change we all need, which is called, " A new birth," and, “ Being born of God," we may obserye, that we are all born, once, in a natural way, into