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sentially different from what they had before. 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. 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; or, in plain terms, whosoever would become a regular member of it, he must not only be baptized, but, as ever he desires to share in its spiritual and eternal blessings, he must experience the renewing and sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit on his soul, to cleanse it from the power of corruption, and to animate it to a divine and spiritual life. For, were it possible for a man to be born again, in the literal sense that you have mentioned, by entering a second time into his mother's womb, such a second birth would do no more to qualify him for the kingdom of God than the first; for that which is born of the flesh is only flesh, and what proceeds, and is produced from parents that are sinful and corrupt, is sinful and corrupt as they are; but that which is born of the Spirit is formed to a resemblance of that blessed Spirit, whose office it is to infuse a divine life into the soul.
Wonder not, therefore, that I said unto thee, and have declared it as a truth that you are concerned in, that you yourselves, although you are Jews, and Pharisees, and rulers of the people, yet must be born again, since the degeneracy of the human nature is of so universal an extent as to be common to you all. Nor have you any cause to be surprized if there be some things in this doctrine of regeneration which are of an obseure and unsearchable nature, for, even in the natural world, many things are so. The wind, for instance, bloweth where it will, sometimes one way, and sometimes another, and is not subject to the direction or command of men, and thou hearest the sound thereof, and feelest its sensible and powerful effects, yet thou canst not exactly tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth; for whatever general principles may be laid down concerning it, when you come to account for its particular variations, the greatest philosophers often find themselves at a loss: and, in like manner, so it is with every one that is born of the Spirit; and you are so far from being capable of accounting for it, that it is easy to be seen there is a sovereign freedom in that divine agency, which makes it oftentimes impossible to say why it is imparted to one rather than to another; and there is a secret in the manner of its operation on the mind, which it is neither necessary to know, nor possible to explain. Nicodemus answered and said unto him, how can these things be? Jesus ansivered and said unto him, art thou d master in Israel, and knowest not these things? Our Lord having, all along, spoken to Nicodemns in the common dialect of the Jewish divinity schools, might justly express his surprize, that he, who was a doctor in 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, 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 new birth, since the person who taught it was certain of its truth.
doctrine of the Verily, verily,
I say unto thee, we speak that we do know, and testify that we have sien, and ye receive not our witness. 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 doctrines 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. And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. Perhaps Jesus mentioned his coming down from heaven, to put the Jewish doctor in mind of the acknowledgment with which, at the beginning of their interview, he had addressed him, viz. that he was a teacher come from God. And, by telling him that the death of the Messiah was prefigured by types in the law, he shewed him that it was agreeable both to the doctrine of Moses, and to the counsels of heaven, that Messiah should be in a suffering state, consequently he insinuated that the meanness of his present appearance on earth was no reason why Nicodemus should doubt of his having been in heaven. The type he mentioned, as prefiguring his sufferings, both in their circumstances and consequences, was that of the brazen serpent, which, though it represented a thing noxious in its nature, was so far from being so, that all who were poisoned by the stings of real serpents obtained a perfect and speedy cure, if they but looked at it. In like manner, the Son of God, though made in the similitude of sinful flesh, would, by his death on the cross, heal all true penitents, even such as had been guilty of the greatest and most deadly sins. This unspeakable happiness, he assured him, men owed to the free and immense love of God the Father, who desired their salvation with such ardency, that he sent his only begotten Son to bestow everlasting life on them; so far was he from sending him to condemn them, as they had reason to fear. Hence he concluded, that they who believed on the Son of God were not condemned: whereas, they who did not believe were condemned already for that sin; and justly, because their unbelief was owing to their own wickeduess, and not to any defect in the evidences of his mission, which were so full, as to work conviction in every unprejudiced mind. He that believeth on him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. It is the natural effect of such a person's temper and conduct, which render him incapable of eternal life. For this is the reason of that condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. Wicked men, who cleave to their sin because of the present pleasure they find.in it, cannot endure true doctrine; for this reason, that it shews their actions in a proper light, condemns them, and raises qualms of conscience that are extremely painful. But he that doth truth, i. e. acts in conformity to the instruction of divine revelation, cometh to the light, endeavouring to acquire a fuller knowledge of his duty, and to be, better acquainted with the state of his own heart, since this examination makes it manifest that his deeds are wrought of God. This discourse, we may believe, affected Nicodemus greatly; he perceived that Jesus saw into his heart, was convinced, and, from that time forth, became his disciple; defended him in the great council, of which he was a member; and, with Joseph of Arimathea, paid him the honours of funeral, when
all his bosom friends deserted him.
Some time after the conference with Nicodemus, Jesus and his disciples, leaving Jerusalem, went into the land of Judea, or those parts of Judea that were remote from Jerusalem. [John iii. 22..25.] After these things came Jesus and his disciples, into
the land of Judea, and there he tarried with them and baptized. And John also was baptizing in Enon, near to Salim, because there was much water there, and they came, and were baptized, For John was not yet cast into prison. Then there arose a question between some of John's disciples and the Jews about purifying. It is generally admitted, that the purifying here mentioned means baptism; it is not however, equally agreed, what was the nature of the dispute, or by whom it was carried on. Dr. Doddridge supposes, that it was agitated between a Jew who had lately been baptized by Jesus, and the disciples of John others, however, suppose, that our common reading is to be received, and that the unconverted Jews reproached the followers of John with the popularity which attended the preaching of Jesus, Macknight thinks, that the matter in debate was whether Christ had sufficient authority to re-baptize those who had been before the disciples of his forerunner. However this might be, it was fully decided by John, who answered and said, [chap. iii. 27, 28.] Aman can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven. Ye yourselves bear me witness that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. It is the bridegroom only that hath the bride, and it is his peculiar right to enjoy her as his own but as for the intimate friend of the bridegroom, who standeth near him, and heareth him express his delight and complacency in her, he is so far from envying and rep ining at it, that if he really deserves the name of a friend, he rather rejoices, with exceeding great joy, on account of the bridegroom's voice. Such, therefore, is the friedship and the high regard I have for Jesus, that this that you have told me is my joy, which is so far from being at all impaired, that it is heightened and completed on this happy occasion, which you should rather have been ready to congratulate than to have made it a matter of complaint [John iii. 30.] He must increase, but I must decrease: and it is fit it should be so, for he that cometh from above, as Jesus did, is far above all the children of men, and so, undoubtedly, is above me; while, on the other hand, he that originally was of the earth, being born, like me, in a natural way, is still of the earth, mean and imperfect, and can never hope, by any refinements and improvements, to equal what is heavenly and divine; but what he says will correspond with his original, and being earthly in his rise, he speaketh of the earth; the subjects of his discourse are comparatively low, or, however noble and sublime they be, there is a mixture of infirmity and weakness in his way of teaching them : whereas he who originally cometh from heaven, and who has shewn so wonderful a condescension in his visiting this lower world, is still, in the midst of all his voluntary abasement, incomparably above all that dwell upon earth, not only in the dignity and glory of his person, but in the spiritual and heavenly nature of his doctrine. And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth, and no man receiveth his testimony; and, anong all that hear him, there are very few who are duly affected with what he delivers, and yield as they ought to its divine evidence and importance. He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true; acknowledging his hand in these credentials given to his Son, and his veracity in sending him thus furnished to fulfil his antient promises to his people. For he whom God hath sent into the world as the promised Messiah speaketh the words of God, and all that he reveals should be regarded as divine oracles, for God giveth not the powers and the inspiration of his Spirit (to him) by measure, under such limitations and with such interruptions as he gives it to his other messengers, but it dwells in him by a constant presence, and operates by a perpetual energy. For the almighty Father loveth the Son incomparably beyond the most faithful of his servants, and hath not only established him: as the great teacher of his church, but hath given the government of all things inte bis hand, that he may be regarded as the universal Lord."
So that, instead of repining at his growing glories, you should rather be solicitous to secure an interest in his favour: for this is the substance, and this the end of my whole testimony, that he who believeth on the Son hath a sure title to eternal life, and hath already the beginnings of it wrought in his soul; but he that is disobedient to the Son, and obstinately persists in his unbelief and impenitence, shall not see and enjoy that life; but, on the contrary, is so far from it, that the wrath of God, and unpardoned aggravated guilt of all his sins, abideth even now upon him, and will quickly sink him into final condemnation and ruin.
Thus did that holy man, John the Baptist, conclude these testimonies to Christ, which are recorded in the gospel; and was, quickly after, imprisoned by Herod the tetrarch, as we shall now proceed to relate in the words of the compilers of the Universal History. Herod, whose first wife was the daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia, was since fallen in love with that of his brother Philip, whom he had seen at his castle, where he had stopped some days in his journey to Rome. Herodias was the daughter of Aristobulus, and 'grand-daughter of Herod the Great. Herod made no difficulty to discover his passion, and propose marrying her, to which she consented, upon condition that he divorced his first wife. This last, having received some information of her husband's design, wisely concealed her resentment; and, having obtained his permission to retire for some time to the castle of Machaeron, which was then in her father's hands, she, instead of going thither, made all the haste she could to the Arabian court, where, being at length arrived, she acquainted the king with the whole intrigue.
This caused a rupture between Herod and Aretas, which ended in a war that lasted till the death of Tiberius, four years after their falling out. Herod, thus rid of his wife without a divorce, made no scruple to marry his sister-in-law, though she had children by his brother Philip, which was contrary to the Mosaic law. John the Baptist was not the only person who condemned that marriage as incestuous, the whole na tion ventured to cry out against it; but as his character gave him a free access to the court, he had the courage to reprove both the king and his paramour in the severest terms. Herodias, being, at length, stung to the quick with his frequent reproaches of incest, and of her infidelity to Philip, resolved to ruin him, and casily persuaded Herod Antipas to cast him into prison. His pretence for it, according to Josephus, was his drawing such multitudes after him to be baptized; but the true reason was that given by the evangelists above quoted, namely, his and Herodias's resentment. For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man, and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly. And when he would have him put to death, he feared the multitude, because they reccred him as a prophet.
We cannot dismiss this subject without a few reflections. We see here, 1. What a long train of evils result from the neglect of controlling our passions. Herod, in this instance, to ensure the gratification of his desire, not only commits an act of the greatest injustice to his brother and father-in-law, but persecutes one of the most excellent men that ever existed. John well deserved the veneration and esteem of Herod, when he thus took the freedom to perform this dangerous office of friendship, and to mamfest a fidelity so seldom to be found in courts, and, indeed, so often wanting elsewhere. A wise prince would have courted his friendship, and sought his advice; but he is, at length, rewarded with imprisonment. 2. We cannot doubt but John was more happy in his prison than Herod in his palace; for the former had the consolation of innocence, and the veneration even of wicked men; while the latter rendered himself despicable and detestable to all, while his own mind was agitated by
such a conflict between the conviction of truth and the love of sin, as could not fail to render him miserable.
Here, also, we learn from the fear of Herod to take away the life of John, how God governs the world, and protects his church, by often making it the interest even of the worst of men to forbear those injuries and cruelties which the malignity of their atures might otherwise dictate. Let us courageously commit the keeping of our souls to him in well-doing, as firmly believing, that whatever hazards we may be exposed to the wrath of man, shall, on the whole, be found to praise him, and the remainder of that wrath shall he restrain.