صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

in the other, he said he only projected to do. For which reason, we may suppose, if we please, that the Jews dated the rebuilding of the temple from Herod's proposal to repair it, rather than from his actually falling about the work. The proposal was made, probably, at the passover, in the eighteenth year of his reign, from the death of Antigonus, A. U. 734. And forty-six years, the time mentioned by the Jews, and it brings us to the passover, A. U. 780, A. D. 27, the year after John began his ministry, reckoning the fifteenth year of Tiberius from its commencement two years before the death of Augustus, as Suetonius has fixed it. Or, though the offer was made by Herod at any other of the great feasts that year, it will occasion a difference only of a few months. Herod finished what he proposed in about eight or nine years' time, for he reared the temple itself in the space of one year and an half, that is, made it fit for the sacred ministrations in that time, and the cloisters in eight years. But, it seems, a number of workmen had, for many years after, been constantly employed in beautifying and improving the buildings of the temple; for the whole was not finished before the arrival of the procurator Florus, A. D. 65, as Josephus expressly testifies, Antiq, xx. 8, where he also informs us, that the people employed in this work amounted to eighteen thousand, and that they were paid out of the sacred treasury. The saying, therefore, of the Jews to our Lord, [Jchn ii. 20.] is perfectly consistent with the account which Josephus has given; for though the reparation of the temple might, in so long a tract of years, meet with interruptions, it is probable they were short, and not worth mentioning.

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. Now, when he was at Jerusalem, at the passover, in the feast day, or rather during the feast, i. e. the whole days of the solemnity, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. 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. 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 men's 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 council, or, as others suppose, a ruler of some synagogue. 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 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, 2.] 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 rod, 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 he a teacher come from God, he insinuatë d Q

[ocr errors]

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 will appear the more forcibly if we consider the following brief statement of the subjects of this conversation, as given by Dr. Doddridge. Our Lord touches on the following grand points, in which it was of the utmost importance that Nicodemus and his brethren should be informed. That no external profession, nor any ceremonial observances or privileges of birth, could entitle any to the blessings of the Messiah's kingdom-that an entire change of heart and life was necessary to that purpose that this must be accomplished by a divine influence on the mind:that mankind were in a state of condemnation and misery :-that the free mercy of God had given his Son to deliver them from it, and to raise them to a blessed immortality, which was the great design and purpose of his coming-that all mankind, that is, Gentiles as well as Jews, were to share in the benefits of his undertaking :-that they were to be procured by his being lifted up on the cross, and to be received by faith in him :-but that if they rejected him there was no other remedy, and their eternal aggravated condemnation would be the certain consequence of it. Our Lord might enlarge more copiously on these heads, which it might be the more proper to do, as some of them were directly contrary to the notions commonly entertained by the Jews concerning the Messiah's kingdom. [John iii. 3.] Jesus answered and said unto him, verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God, i. e. cannot enter into it, just as to see death is to die. By the Jews being begotten and born again, our Lord meant that their notions of things should be rectified, and their inclinations changed, particularly the 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 opposition 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, and uncharitableness. Nor was this change of opinions, dispositions, and actions, necessary to the Jews only. The Gentiles, likewise, needed to be begotten and born again, in order to their entering into 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 practise, 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 natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God. Conversion, therefore, has, in all ages, been & great and surprizing 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 rcgeneration, begetting again, new birth, which import the communication of a new nature. And upon the diversity of men's dispositions before and after the 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 es

tentially 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, cerily, 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 obscure 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 principlesmay 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 answered and said unto him, art thou a master 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 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 eceived 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. Verily, verily,

I say unto thee, we speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen, 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, be 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 marater, 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 is 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 wickedness, 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 ceil 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 a 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.] A man 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 repining 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, io 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 carth, 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, among 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 into his hand, that he may be regarded as the universal Lord.

« السابقةمتابعة »