Page images
PDF
EPUB

ject is mysterious; for there is a secret in it, which God hath thought proper to conceal from us; which, therefore, it is not needful, cr perhaps poilible, for us to know. Is this urged as an objection? Recollect, that the doctrine was represented to Nicodemus in this very light: for our Lord taught him to expect the same difficulties in grace, which occur in creation. “Marvel not, that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth, where it lifteth, and thou hearest the found thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth.” Thus the Spirit acts upon the human mind, in a sovereign and unintelligible manner: for we cannot direct or control his influence, and, though we clearly difceri his effects, it would baffe all our understandings to trace out and explain the methods and the reasons of his operations. The fubject may appear to be involved in so

many

and

great difficulties, that our faith may stagger, and we may cry out with Nicodemus,

How can thefe things be?” But if we fincerely defire instruction, 'he, who condescended to the ignorance and prejudices of that “ inafter of Sfrael," will have compaflion on our weakness, and “ guide us into all truth."

Such is the pride of man, he is not content to “ know in part;" and hence frequently the vain pretender to right reason rejects the grand doctrines of revelation, when he finds in them unfathomable depths. But let us remember the certainty of those things wherein we have been instructed,” and on whose authority we have received them. " Verily, verily,” fays our divine Teacher, “ We speak that we do know, and testify that we have feen; and ye receive not our witness.” There are matters ftill farther removed from our comprehension: and if already we are disposed to object,“ how shall we beascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man, which is in heaven.” He declared himself, then, to be in heaven, at the very moment he was conversing with Nicodemus upon earth. And if we admit this account, why not admit, what is not more unintelligible, the influence of the Spirit in regenerating and fanctifying the soul?

e, if he tell us of heavenly things?" Yet how we controvert his testimony? “ No man hath

afcended

Jesus, having asserted his own authority as a divine and infallible witness of the things of God, proceeded to inform the Jewish ruler of the important benefits resulting from his mission: and hence we learn

III. The deliverance of finners from condemnation through his gracious interpofition. This doctrine should be considered in connection with that already established; for it is a part of the same glorious plan; and the one is as interesting to us as the other. The foundation of both is laid in man's fallen condition: for, if that could be disproved, the whole system would be shaken, and fall to the ground together. We are aware, that it is an offensive truth, -- but we are compelled by the strongest conviction to maintain, that a

we were by nature the children of wrath *;" and it is clearly implied in our Lord's address to Nicodemus. For, while he opened the grand scheme of divine mercy, he evidently argued upon the supposition, that we are in a state of ruin, obnoxious to justice. Thus, when he asserted, “ that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have eternal life;" did he not plainly intimate, that all, considered only in themselves, without the remedy proposed, are liable to perish for ever? From the very grace, offered through the Saviour, we infer, that the whole human species, without excepting a fingle instance, fand in need of redemption, and that there is such depravity in their nature, as without restraint

* Eph. ii. 5o

would

would infallibly leal them to final destruction. «God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that ice world through him might be saved.” Now, where would have been the peculiari mercy, of forbearing to execute the sentence of wrath, if we had not deserved it? or, of preventing the misery, into which we are not likely to fall? Let us enter deeply into this important truth, without which the Gospel will be no more to us than an entertaining story, which may furnish amusement, but will not promote our salvation. Are we affected, as we ought to be, with a conviction of our guilt and danger? What plea can we offer in arrest of judgment? Let us thankfully accept the proposal of deliverance, and urge with our offended God the mediation of his own Son.

The dispensation of grace is here fully opened to Nicodemus. God is represented as looking down in : compassion on our ruined race, and, through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, effecting redemption. He interposed to rescue us, not through any view of merit in us, or the expectation of receiving a recompence; but we are taught to ascribe it to his own sovereign, free, and abundant mercy. « God fo loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son." Well may we exclaim with the Apostle, in devout 'admiration, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our fins *.”

Jesus, then, according to the divine counsel, laid aside his glory, and assumed « the likeness of finful flesh,” that he might make reconciliation. He came down from heaven, not armed with vengeance for our destruction, but inviting finners of every description to return unto God, with assurances of a full remiffion. Yet forgiveness is bestowed, not merely

* 1 John iv. 10.

by

fins + ;”

by an act of indemnity, but in consideration of an adequate satisfaction. The righteous character of God is preserved and displayed, while his justice de. mands a sacrifice, and the Saviour undertakes to answer that demand. « Without shedding of blood is nó remiflion *;” but “ it is not poslible, that the blood of bulls and

goats
should take

away and therefore Jesus appeared for the very purpose of fubmitting to the death of the cross, that he might thereby'“ obtain eternal redemption for us. Thus he declared to Nicodemus, with a reference to the peculiar nature of his sufferings, “ As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up." His death, then, was not, as some vainly talk, an accidental matter; for he himself predicted it, and spake of it as the appointed means of procuring our pardon and falvation. It was the end of his incarnation, and the object which he kept in view, during the whole of his abode on earth.

We rejoice, that he hath made a full atonement by his blood, and therefore we can encourage every trembling penitent to look unto him and be saved; because he is “ the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world 1.” If the Lord God should deal with you according to the strictness of his righteous law, your condemnation would be just and unavoidable. But the Gospel proclaims mercy to all, without exception, who feel and deplore their own wretchedness. Refuse not the gracious tender, for “ whosoever believeth shall not perish, but have everlasting life." "To suppose, that your application to Jesus will not succeed, is to cast a foul reproach upon him, as if he meant not what he said, or could not make good his own assurances. Give an unreserved credit to his word, and plead his name in a confi

* Heb. ix. 226

+ x. 4.

I lfa. xlv. 22. John i. 29.

de

dent expectation of obtaining reconciliation with your God.

Let us not trifle in a business of unspeakable importance, but remember that life and death are set before us. Let us therefore impartially examine ourfelves, while we consider

IV. The different states and characters of those who receive, and of those who reject, the Saviour. Our Lord infifted on this subject in very folemn terms, at the close of the conference, probably that I he might leave an awful impression upon the mind of Nicodemus, and that from him the other members of the Sanhedrim might be warned of their danger, if they should continue in unbelief. The ministers of Christ, in like manner, should admonith their hearers, and draw the same line of distinction between them.

Such as fix their entire regard on Jesus, and derive all their expectations of pardon and salvation from him, while they “ abhor themselves and repent in duft and ashes,” are immediately received into the divine fa. vour, however numerous or aggravated their iniquities have been. The sentence of the law, to which they would otherwise have been exposed, has now lost all its force against them: the Lord himself looks on them with delight, and will preserve them to his heavenly kingdom. “ He that believeth on him is not condemned.” How gracious the declaration! What a firm foundation for our hopes! What a continual source of comfort! Christians, should it not draw forth your warmest gratitude and love, and excite you to holy diligence and zeal? Why should you now be terrified or distressed by any occurrence ! Depending on the assurance of your Redeemer, with devout admiration fay, “O Lord, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comforteuft me *

* Ifa. xii. I,

How

« PreviousContinue »