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fore to conceal it from public rotice, and preserve his reputation, He went in the dark.
But even al. lowing, that he was under a very improper influence of the fear of man, he was not thereby prevented from applying to this divirte Instructor for information in the truth. Our Lord, who never rejected or discouraged any fincere enquirer, overlooking or not upbraiding him for his weakness, received him kindly, and without referve declared to him the most im. portant mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. He constantly spoke with a regard to the circumstances and difpofitions of his audience, and opened the Gofpel, more or lefs as they could bear it. Here was no fcornful, captious disputant, but an humble, teachable scholar, feeking direction in the way uf righteousness. Here, therefore, we shall find, within a few verses, a more clear and explicit representation of the great system of Christianity, than in any other passage, of equal compass, throughout the four Evangeliéfs. It is recorded for our benefic, and every particle of it concerns each of us as much as it did Ni. codemus himself. May we, like him, be willing to fit at the feet of Jesus, and hear his words, “which are able to make us wise unto salvation!”
How gracious and condescending was our Redeemer, in giving his time and his company for the instruction of an individual! The salvation of one fout is inconceivably more important than all the mos mentous affairs of mightieft empires, which employ the councils and the armies of princes. The minister of Christ, therefore, who like his Master is ata tending to the spiritual welfare event of a single perfon, has a more honourable poft, and a better object in view, than the statesman or the hero on whoin the eyes of thoufands are fixed.
The main subjects of the conference with Nicodemus may be reduced to four:
1. The nature and neceffity of regeneration. This being the first thing which our Lord insisted on, we conclude that the doctrine lies at the very foundation of Christianity. “We know,” said Nicodemus, «s that thou art a teacher come from God; for no man can do these miracles that thou doeft, except God be with him.” Such an address, acknowledging that Jesus was a prophet divinely commissioned, implied a defire of receiving initruction from him. Without any preface or apology, the Saviour began to explain the religion which he came to set up, and with peculiar folemnity declared an entire renovation of mind to be universally and indispensably requisite: * Verily, verily I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot fee the kingdom of God.” As if he had said, “ Doft thou believe, I am come from God? Then I, the faithful witness, assert this great truth. Dost thou enquire after the kingdom of God! Be assured, that none can be a member of it, who is not so totally transformed in his inward dispositions, as to become a new creature."
The Jews, and especially the Pharisees, boasted of the privileges of their birth, as the descendants of Abraham, and depended on their scrupulous attention to external rites and ceremonies. They fupposed, too, that, whenever Messiah should appear to establife his government, they should have, more than a preference, an exclusive right, to its advantages. In opposition to this gross delusion, our Lord maintained, that their extraction from the most excellent progenitors, their religious education and profession, and all their outward observances, would not secure to them the blessings of his falvation; but that all of every character, rank, and nation (the felf-righteous Pharisee, no less than the idolatrous Gentile), must receive such a thorough change of heart, as may prosly be described by coming into a new world.
We are aware, that much pains are taken, not to deny our Lord's assertion, for that is express, but by subtilty and refinement to explain away its meaning. “ To be born again,” it is said, is only a strong eastern metaphor, which implies a renunciation of former errors, whether Jewish or Pagan, and a profession of Christianity. Let us try this interpretation by other passages. « Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world *.” And can such a conquest be ascribed to every one, who is called a Christian? We have continual and lamentable proof to the con. trary. Equally absurd is the notion, that baptism constitutes regeneration. This, indeed, is the outward symbol of it; the water, which is applied to the body, fitly representing the operation of the Spirit in cleansing and purifying the soul. But whosoever is born of God finneth not t.” And is this to be affirmed of every baptized person? Alas! how different is the case !
It is said, then, that “ to be born again” is to reform the life, and pay an exact regard to the duties of morality. This, we grant, is highly expedient and necessary, and is an effect which will flow from regeneration, but it may be produced without it. For do not many" make the outside clean, whose inward part is full of wickedness I?”. But the change, of which we speak, originates within, and is properly a renovation of the heart, in which corrupt and carnal affections are subdued, and holy and spiritual desires and tempers are implanted. It is, therefore, “ a new creation,” so that the man is, as it were,
made over again, not as to his body, which suffers no alteram tion, but as to the dispositions of the mind: the de pravity of his nature is rectified. The language is metaphorical, we allow; and who ever denied it? But some meaning was intended to be conveyed in
John Y. 46
| Luke xi. 39.
the figure; and certain modern explanations have fubtilized it into nothing. If Jesus designed only to inculcate an external reformation of conduct, and a regularity of morals, he used a moft dark and intrieate manner of expression, which perplexes rather than instructs. On this interpretation the metaphor is abfurd, and all the solemnity of our Lord's address is mere trifling; for he has rendered that obscure, which in plain words would have been easily underftood. Had this been the fenfe, Nicodemus would not have wondered; nes would Jesus have spoken of it as a mysterious doctrine.
But if we give the metaphor its full force, there is a beautiful consistency and grandeur in the passage. The Jewish ruler was puzzled, and betrayed his ignorance of spiritual things by the foolish questions he proposed. But m
But many acute and learned men have likewise discovered great absurdity, by their objections to the truth here advanced; and even among fuch the renovation of the soul has been made a subo ject of profane scorn and ridicule. Jesus, however, replied only by repeating his former assertion, and declaring the necessity of receiving from the Holy Spirit a more excellent principle, than we can derive from our parents by the natural birth. “ That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is fpirit.” Every thing produces its like: and if it be an allowed maxim, that “none can bring a clean thing out of an unclean *," the offspring of fallen man must universally partake of his depravity. But the Holy Ghost communicates to the soul a new and divine nature, which resembles that blessed Agent in purity and goodness.
None, therefore, thould put off the subject to others, as if it were requisite only for grofs and aband finners to be born again. Would you say, * Job xiv. 4.
Why Why fhould I be disturbed about the matter, firce my conduct is regular, my dealings fair, and my tempers amiable? You forget surely, that we all spring from the fame corrupt original. The neceffity of regeneration arifes not from the peculiar circumftances, in which fome men may be placed, or the degree of guilt they may have contracted, but from the degeneracy of our nature; which we all equally partake of, though different persons may discover it in different ways. Whether or no you can explain the mode, in which the effects of the fall are transinitted to us, whether or no it may accord with “philosophy and vain deceit," it is implied in our Lord's declaration, that, upon our first entrance into the world, we bring with us a carnal principle, which is oppofite to God; and furely the 'univerfal condition of the human race is enough to prove, that there is not one, who does not feel a strong propenfity to evil. This being granted, it follows at once,“ We must be born
Without such a renewal of the mind, we shall remain in a state of alienation from God; and therefore we can have no part in the Messiah's kingdom of grace. For, that being a kingdom of righteousness, thofe only, who are changed into the divine likeness, can relish its holy and fpiritual precepts. Neither can we enter into the kingdom of glory, so long as we continue under the influence of the flesh,” which is “ enmity against God.” We are thereby unfitted for maintaining any communion with God: he cannot admit us into his presence with such a difpofition; nor can heaven itself afford us any enjoyment of happiness.
Of how great importance is it, then, to enquire, Am I born again? Are my tempers and affections fanctified? Let us not be satisfied with an external decency of behaviour, and an honourable conduct among men, which, though highly beneficial to f