Page images

not do this unless there had been some custom of his nation which these words express; and supposing proselyte baptism to have been practised, he would have had in it the custom required, for by being born again the Jews understood the man's becoming a proselyte, and by being born again of water, nothing can be meant but being baptised. Now it strikes us that on this reasoning Nicodemus is made out to be one of the most stupid and turbid of mortals, not only unworthy of the honours of a master of Israel, but not fit to occupy a stool in the class of the most unskilful of the rabbis. If it were a Jewish custom to baptise proselytes, if a man on becoming a proselyte was familiarly said by the Jews to be born again, and if to be born again by water can mean nothing but to become a proselyte by baptism, on what principle does Dr. Halley account for Nicodemus being so inconceivably dull as not to comprehend language which on this shewing must have been as familiar to every Jew as ' household words'? To us it appears clear that our author, in his zeal to press this passage into his service, has been so exceedingly over-pressing, that he has rendered it unfit to do duty in his cause.

In adducing this argument, he has made certain assumptions, none of which he can well dispense with, but all of which we think are false. The first is, that our Lord could not justly express surprise that Nicodemus, a master in Israel, should not understand his words unless there were some custom in the nation to which these words referred. Now, as already hinted to us, it appears on the other hand quite evident that had our Lord referred to a mere national custom when he spoke of a man's being born again of water, he could not have grounded his surprise at the ignorance of Nicodemus on the circumstance, that the latter was a master in Israel, for such ignorance would have been unworthy of any Jew. His doing so shows that there was something deeper in his words than what merely met the ear, but not so deep as that a rabbi should have felt any difficulty in apprehending it. It is well known that a great part of a rabbi's fame arose from his ability to‘understand a proverb (a parable) and the interpretation, the words of the wise and their dark sayings ;' and that when rabbis met, their occupation not unfrequently was to propound such to each other for solution, whilst on all occasions they conversed together in a sort of highly figurative style, of which they alone had the proper key. Now our Lord was a Rabbi, and so was Nicodemus, and when the latter came to learn from Christ himself his doctrines, the latter divulged it in language of the same kind as Nicodemus would have used to him had their respective positions been reversed. Our Lord's words, then, must be held as figurative here; but the figure is one which a Jewish rabbi, familiar with such modes of phraseology and with the language of the Old Testament, should have had no difficulty in understanding. Hence our Lord's reproach.

Dr. Halley further assumes, and here he is not singular, that Nicodemus really did not comprehend our Lord's words, and that his almost puerile question, 'How can a man be born when he is old ?' was a bona fide expression of helpless ignorance. We have more respect for the intelligence of the worthy rabbi than to give in to such an idea. A very little acquaintance with the forms of Oriental controversy, or discussional conversation, will serve to convince any reader, that in this question the ruler expressed not his ignorance of our Lord's meaning, but his dissent from his doctrine, or at least his doubt of it. The drift of his rejoinder we take to be, 'I can understand how such a change as you speak of is necessary for one who has never been spiritually born at all; but that a man who is old, that a man who was born into the kingdom of heaven when he entered the world, and has all his life long continued in it, that such an one should be told he requires regeneration seems to me absurd and unreasonable.' To this our Lord rejoins by reaffirming his former assertion with an explanatory addition to the effect that his doctrine was, that let a man's position by natural descent be what it might, a spiritual change was further necessary before he could be saved. Still Nicodemus expresses his polite dissent by asking, 'How can these things be?' and it is in reply to this that our Lord addresses to him the implied rebuke contained in the words, 'Art thou a master in Israel,' &c. As a learned Jew he ought to have understood his own scriptures better than to call in question such a doctrine. In what follows, our Lord, we think, plainly shows that he did not regard Nicodemus as ignorant of his meaning so much as opposed to his doctrine, for while he shows the utmost anxiety to convince the rabbi, he offers not one word of explanation of what he had said, but goes on to assert in solemn terms his own authority as a divinely commissioned teacher, and his perfect certainty of the truth of what he affirmed; after which, dropping the style of figurative speech in which their conversation had commenced, he proceeds to announce to Nicodemus, in plain terms, the way of salvation through himself as the Son of God. Whatever, therefore, may be built upon the supposed ignorance of Nicodemus in this conversation, we must regard as resting upon a very doubtful basis.

But the most important assumption made by Dr. Halley in his reasoning on this passage is, that by being born of water' nothing else can be meant than being baptised with water. No

proof, however, is offered by him, either that his own exegesis is right, or that the interpretations proposed by others are wrong. He has not shown us how it comes to pass that “to be born of water must refer to baptism. It is of no use to quote passages from the rabbis to show that they spoke of a proselyte as one new-born; for the question is not as to what is implied in being born again, but as to what is implied in being born again of water. Could it be shown that, in the days of our Lord, the Jews were accustomed to describe the baptism of proselytes by saying they were regenerated of water, it would both settle the question of proselyte baptism, and justify Dr. Halley's exegesis. In defect of this, however, we must hold the latter to be purely gratuitous. As for other interpretations, the lecturer summarily settles them by affirming that no other satisfactory interpreta tion of the passage has ever been suggested. We should have felt more conviction as to this had he attempted to prove his assertion by an examination of those which have been offered. We should like, for instance, to know his objections to that which supposes here, as in Matt. iii. 11, a hendiadys, and which explains being born of water and Spiriť as equivalent to being born of that Spirit which cleanses like water. *

In one part of the lecture Dr. Halley has partly anticipated some of these strictures; for in reply to the question, 'If the baptized proselyte was regarded by the Jews as new born, how should the ruler in Israel reply to our Lord, ‘How can a man be born when he is old ?' &c., he explains the question of Nicodemus as expressive rather of his surprise that our Lord should deem regeneration necessary for a Jew, than of ignorance of the meaning of his words. But what in this case comes of the argument raised on this passage in favour of Jewish baptism? That argument rests, as far as we can see, entirely on the supposed ignorance of the ruler. Such ignorance was held by our Lord to be remarkable and blame-worthy, because, says Dr. Halley, 'there was some prevalent usage of their nation to illustrate' our Lord's words. The existence of this prevalent usage then is an inference from the blameworthiness of the ruler's ignorance. But if there was no ignorance in the case, what comes of the inference ? It will not do to substitute in this reasoning the word 'prejudice,' or the word 'obstinacy,' or aught similar for the word 'ignorance;' for if the ruler's question was prompted by 'prejudice or any other cause of a moral character, our Lord's reproof can be accounted for, without at all resorting to the supposition that any prevalent usage' formed the subject of his remarks. We humbly think, therefore, that our learned

* See Alexander's Anglo-Catholicism not Apostolical, p. 300.

friend's 'second thoughts' on this passage are not only better than his first, but annihilatory of all that his first have been urged to prove.

In the course of this lecture, Dr. Halley 'taking high ground' maintains that there was a general baptism of the Israelites by Moses, and adduces 1 Cor. x. 1,2, as affording apostolic sanction to this opinion. We should be glad could this point be established, as with us it would settle the question respecting the antiquity of baptism; but we are constrained to say, we have perused Dr. Halley's comments upon the statement of the apostle without conviction. Our space does not allow us to enter at large into the subject; we shall, therefore, simply, from Dr. Halley's own remarks, draw out an analogy which will, we think, at once express the apostle's meaning, and show the fallacy of our author's reasoning. It is this: :-as the eating of the manna is to the observance of the Lord's Supper ; so is the baptism of the Israelites, at the Red Sea, to Christian baptism, Was then the eating of the manna the same kind of thing as the eating of the Lord's Supper? If not; on what grounds is it concluded that the baptism at the Red Sea was the same kind of thing as Christian baptism? Have we not in both cases a mere historical event, possessing, as all events in the history of the typical people possessed, a spiritual significancy, adduced as supplying an argumentum à fortiori in favour of the due observance of an express and sacredly appointed ordinance ?

We have already exceeded due bounds, and must consequently content ourselves with merely noticing the remaining Lectures. The fourth is 'On John's Baptism; and is chiefly occupied in a reply to the late Mr. Hall's reasons for thinking John's baptism not Christian baptism. Here we think the author fails on one point, and that the most important of all, the turning point in fact of the entire controversy ; viz. the rebaptism of John's disciples, mentioned Acts xix. 1-5. Dr. Halley labours hard to get over the testimony of this passage against his position, that the two baptisms were identical. For a statement of his reasonings we must refer our readers to the work itself. To us, they appear to result in this, that John's baptism was valid, if administered before our Lord's death; but not if administered after that event. What is this, but to say that John's baptism was valid for his own, but not for the Christian dispensation ? than which we can require no more evidence that his baptism was not Christian baptism. Nothing would appear to us more clear than that if John's dispensation was not the Christian dispensation, the baptism whose validity expired with the former, was not that baptism which was appointed to be the initiatory rite under the latter.

Lecture V. is on 'Baptismal Regeneration, and is, to our judgment, one of the best and most valuable in the volume. In Lecture VI. Dr. Halley enters upon the subject of the mode of Christian baptism,' and, in a long appendix, replies to the work of the late Dr. Carson. Lecture VII. discusses the question of 'the subjects of Christian baptism,' and is followed by two appendices, one on the Codex Laudianus, and the other on Dr. Carson's interpretation of the Baptismal Commission. The subjects handled in these two concluding lectures are such, that even had our space permitted, the peculiar character of this journal as the representative of both parties in the baptismal controversy among dissenters would have precluded our entering upon them. It is the aim of the 'Eclectic' to preserve a strict neutrality upon these questions, and this characteristic of our journal we are the more solicitous to preserve, now that the aspect of the present time seems imperatively to demand union among all sects of evangelical dissenters.

We have freely given utterance to our dissent from some of Dr. Halley's opinions, but we cannot part from him without an assurance of the deep impression the perusal of his work has left upon our minds of respect for his learning and talents, and of esteem for him as a man and a minister of Christ.

Art. II. Mémoires de B. Barère ; Membre de la Constituante, de la Con.

vention, du Comité de Salut public, et de la Chambre des Représentants, publiés par Hippolite Carnot, Membre de la Chambre des Députés, et David d'Angers, Membre de l'Institut. 4 vols. Paris : J. Labitte,

quai Voltaire. THREE years ago, in a city at the foot of the Pyrénées, an old man, the last survivor of the principal actors in the most eventful drama recorded in the annals of any country, closed his long and agitated career, without one feeling of remorse, almost without a regret, and full of confidence in Divine Providence. Two days afterwards, the whole population of Tarbes followed to their last resting-place the remains of their fellow-citizen; and, before the coffin was lowered into the grave, one of the principal inhabitants, the chairman of the council of barristers, addressed the spectators in the following terms :

'In this place, where to bestow mendacious praises would be sacrilege, I can solemnly affirm that never, in any man, was found a purer disinterestedness, more affectionate family feelings, a more enthusiastic love for the fine arts, and more honourable principles of sociability,

« PreviousContinue »