« PreviousContinue »
But they, supposing that he spoke of Herod's temple, in which they were standing, replied, 20. Forty and six years was this temple in building, (see Chronol. Dissert. V.) and wilt thou rear it up in three days? 21. But he spake of the temple of his body. 22. When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had said. They believed the scriptures which predicted Messiah's death, and they believed the more firmly in their Master on account of this prophecy, which, by foretelling his resurrection so long before hand, rendered that event, when it happened, a most illustrious proof of his mission from God.
During the whole of this passover, our Lord performed many miracles on purpose to engage the attention of the people. They read every day in their sacred books astonishing accounts of miracles; but it was several ages since any thing supernatural had happened among them publicly. Wherefore miracles being now revived again, they were beheld no doubt with great pleasure, and made a strong impression upon the spectators, leading many of them to believe in Jesus as the Messiah, ver. 23. Now when he was at Jerusalem at the passovor, in the feast day, or rather during the feast, i. e. the whole days of the solemnity, so v Tn sogn signifies, many believed in his name when they saw the miracles which he did.-24. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, did not discover himself to be the Messiah, because he knew all men, had perfect knowledge of their dispositions-25. And needed not that any should testify of man, for he knew what was in man: on the present occasion, he knew that the belief of many was not yet grown up to a full conviction, and foresaw that they would quickly fall off, when they found he was rejected by the great men, and did not erect a secular empire.
Of his knowledge of mens minds, our Lord gave a remarkable proof in a conversation he had during this passover, with one Nicodemus of the sect of the Pharisees, and a member of
the great council, or as others suppose, a ruler of some synagogue. This doctor had heard our Lord's miracles much talked of, perhaps had seen some of them, and, like many of his countrymen, was thinking, that he who did such things must be
figures of speech, the apostle cal's the bodies of believers the temples of God, on account of the inhabitation of the Holy Ghost, who enabled them in the first ages to speak with tongues, to work miracles, to discern spirits, &c.
. Agxa, the title given him, is often used in this sense by the evangelists; compare Matt ix. 18, 23. with Luke viii. 41. Accordingly, ver. 10. on this very occasion Jesus calls him (didarxados të Iogusλ) a master or teacher of Israel. But he might possess both dignities, the members of the council being many of them rulers of synagogues. In the mean time it is certain that he was one of the council, for we are told so expressly, John vii. 50.
Messiah. On the other hand, the meanness of his appearance occasioned scruples which he could not remove. In this state of doubtfulness, he resolved to wait on Jesus, that by conversing with him personally he might find out the truth. John iii. 1. There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.--2. The same came to Jesus by night: he came to Jesus privately, for fear of his brethren of the council, who from the very beginning were Christ's enemies-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. Christ's miracles left Nicodemus no room to doubt of his mission from God; yet they did not prove him to be the Messiah, because he had not as yet called himself by that name, at least in the hearing of Nicodemus. Wherefore, when the latter told Jesus that he believed him to be a teacher come from God, he insinuated that at present he did not believe on him as Messiah, but that he would believe if he assumed that character; and by these insinuations, modestly requested Jesus to explain himself with regard to his pretensions. It is remarkable, that the evangelist introduces this passage of the history with observing, that Jesus knew the thoughts of all men. Probably he meant to signify, that in the course of the conversation, he prevented Nicodemus, by forming his discourse to him in such a manner as to obviate all the objections which his thoughts had suggested, without giving him time to propose them. This remark, if I mistake not, shews the force and propriety of the things which our Lord said to Nicodemus, and accounts for the latter's being so speedily and thoroughly convinced, although Jesus did not assume either the name or character of the Messiah. It seems his reasonings, besides their own intrinsic light, had an additional evidence arising from their being exactly adapted to Nicodemus' most secret thoughts, so that they demonstrated the extent of our Lord's knowledge with great advantage. We see this in all the branches of the conversation, but more especially in the answer returned to Nicodemus' salutation. 3. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man * be born
By the Jews being begotten and born again, our Lord meant that their notions of things should be rectified, and their inclinations changed; particularly their notions concerning the secular grandeur of the Messiah, and their passion for sensual enjoyments, their error concerning the immutability of the Mosaic law, and their hatred of heathens, more for their op position to the Jewish institutions, than for the wickedness of their lives. He meant also, that their manners were to be greatly reformed, even in matters which they pretended were allowed by the law: for example, they were to abstain from all degrees of lust, profane swearing, revenge, uncharitableness. See on Matt. v. 27. 26. Nor was this change of opinions, dispositions and actions, necessary to the Jews only. The Gentiles like wise needed to be begotten and born again, in order to their entering into
again, he cannot see the kingdom of God, cannot enter into it; just as to see death, Luke xi. 26. is to die. Though the lustre of my miracles constrains thee to acknowledge that I am a teacher come from God, thou dost not fully believe that I am Messiah. And the reason of thy doubt is, that thou dost not find me surrounded with the pomp of a temporal prince. But believe me, unless a man is renewed in the spirit of his mind, he cannot discern the evidence of my mission, who am come to erect the kingdom of God, consequently he cannot see that kingdom, cannot enter into it on earth, neither enjoy it in heaven.-Nicodemus hearing Jesus affirm, that the posterity of Abraham needed a second generation and birth, to fit them for becoming the people of God, could not take his words in the sense which he with other doctors commonly affixed to them when speaking of proselytes; because so applied, they signified conversion to Judaism, a thing not applicable to Jews. Not doubting, therefore, that Jesus spake of a second natural generation and birth, he was exceedingly surprised. 4. 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 replied, that he was not speaking of a natural, but of a spiritual generation. 5. Jesus answered,
the kingdom of God; for they entertained very low and dishonourable sentiments of the perfections of God, of the worship that is due to him, and of the method of appeasing him not to mention that they erred in many essential points of morality, and in their practice came far short of their own imperfect ideas of virtue. Nay, to make even them who from their infancy have been blessed with the gospel, the true subjects of God's kingdom, there must be a total change of opinions, inclinations and actions, wrought in them; for as the apostle tells us, I Cor. ii. 14. The natu ral man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God. Conversion, therefore, has in all ages been a great and surprising effect of the divine power upon the human mind, producing a change the full extent of which cannot be better expressed than by the terms, regeneration, begetting again, new birth, which import the communications of a new nature. And upon the diversity of mens dispositions, before and after that change, are founded the names of old and new man, by which the apostle denominates our unconverted and converted states: as if when converted, men obtained a nature essentially different from what they had before. This, however, must not be so understood, as if the new nature was raised to its perfection immediately upon its being conveyed to us in regeneration. For as by the natural generation we are not born with the reason and perfections of men, but with the faculties and possibilities of attaining these perfections: so in the spiritual generation, the habits of grace and holiness are not all at once raised to their maturity, we have only the seeds of them conveyed to us, which must be gradually nourished to their full measure, by long practice and experience. In speaking to Jews, there was a peculiar propriety in expressing this change by the idea of regeneration, as it shewed them that Abraham's begetting them, however much they might glory in it, was not sufficient to make them the people and children of God; but that laying aside the glory of their descent, it was necessary they should be begotten anew by a greater Father, even the Spirit of God, who would communi❤ cate a better nature to them than what they had derived from Abraham.
ansavered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born (he meant likewise begotten, as previous thereto, for the original word signifies both) of water, that is, baptized, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God; unless a man has a new nature given him by the Spirit, which is being born of the Spirit, and publicly receive the Christian religion when offered to him, (Matt. x. 33.) which is being born of water, he cannot be a subject of God's kingdom here, nor have a share in his glory hereafter. But that Nicodemus might see the absurdity of his notion, Jesus told him, that whatsoever is begotten must necessarily partake of the nature of that which begets it; and therefore that a man's being begotten and born a second time by his natural parents, though it were possible, would not make him holy and immortal, or qualify him for the kingdom of God. After such a second generation, his nature would be the same sinful corruptible thing as before, because he would still be endued with all the properties and imperfections of human nature, and consequently would be as far from a happy immortality as ever. 6. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. In order to your being admitted into the kingdom of God, you must have a spiritual and immortal nature conferred on you, which cannot be done but by the renewing of the Spirit.-7. Marvel not that I said unto thee, ye must be born again; ye Jews, the descendants of Abraham, ye scribes, Pharisees, and doctors of Israel, must be born again in this spiritual sense.—It is true, thou mayest not understand how this second birth can be brought to pass; but that is no reason why it should be disbelieved, since there are many great effects in nature which you must acknowledge, though you cannot explain their causes. For instance, 8. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, (xodir eggs, Ta from what repository it cometh) and whither it goeth; (*
ayu, into what place it goeth away and is laid up,) in allusion I suppose to Psal. cxxxv. 7. where God is said to bring the wind
* Ver. 5. Except a man be born of water.] Our Lord did not mean that baptism is in all cases necessary to salvation; for in the apostles commission, Mark xvi. 16. notwithstanding faith and baptism are equally enjoined up on all nations, not the want of baptism, but of faith, is declared to be damn. ing. Besides, it should be considered that this is a mere ceremony, which in itself has no cfficacy to change mens natures, or to fit them for heaven ; and that in some circumstances it may be absolutely impracticable. Nevertheless, as the washing of the body with water in baptism, fitly represents the purification of the soul necessary to its enjoyment of heaven, this cere mony is very properly made the rite by which we publicly take upon our selves the profession of the Christian religion, the dispensation preparatory to heaven. Wherefore the receiving of this rite is necessary in all cases where it may be had; the confession of Christ being oftentimes as neces sary as believing on him. If so, persons who undervalue water baptism, on pretence of exalting the baptism of the Spirit, do greatly err, not know. ing the Scriptures nor the commandment of Christ.
out of his treasures. See also Eccles. xi. 5.-So is every one that is begotten and born of the Spirit. The influences by which he is begotten, are altogether imperceptible to sense, yet the effects thereof are far from being so. Moreover, to the actions and ends of the spiritual life, the new birth is as essential, as the natural is to those of the animal life. These arguments were undeniable nevertheless, Nicodemus, surprised to hear that Jews, who by birth were the people of God, must be forgotten and born again, still urged that the thing was impossible; which it doubtless was, taking regeneration as he did for conversion to Judaism, a notion which he was led into from what Jesus had told him, ver. 5, 6. namely, that the regeneration he spake of was a moral and spiritual one. 9. Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? 10. Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master (didasnaλos, a teacher or doctor) in Israel, and knowest not these things? Our Lord having all along spoken to Nicodemus, in the common dialect of the Jewish divinity schools, might justly express his surprise, that he who was a doctor of Israel did not understand him. For though he affixed a meaning to the word regeneration, a little different from what it bare in the mouths of the doctors, it was plainly analogous to their sense of it, and so might easily have been understood even by a novice; the admission of a proselyte being looked on by the Jews as a second birth to him, in regard his parents and relations were no longer reckoned such, and the proselyte himself was thought to have received a new soul by the change of his religion. Farther, Jesus told Nicodemus, he was to blame for rejecting the doctrine of the new birth, since the person who taught it, was certain of its truth. 11. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, we speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen, and ye receive not our witness. 12. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not; how shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things? If ye believe not these obvious truths concerning the spiritual nature of God's kingdom, and the qualifications of his subjects, how shall ye believe the more sublime doctines of religion, which I am come to teach you? In the mean time, you may safely receive my instructions, for I am vested with an authority, and endued with gifts far superior to all the prophets that ever appeared. 13. And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the * Son of man which
Ver. 13. Son of man which is in heaven.] Beza and others suppose that the present tense (w) is here put for the past (4), of which construction we have some examples, particularly John ix. 25. Accordingly they translate the clause, The Son of man who was in heaven: But the common translation may be retained thus. Moses, your lawgiver, did not ascend into heaven; he only went up to Mount Sinai, and that but for a few days, that he might receive the law from God. Whereas the Son of man (this was one of the Messiah's titles) who is come down from heaven, (ox T8 xex