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ter of being one of Christ's disciples, and visits out Lord by night for this purpose, through fear of giving offence to his colleagues in the Sanliedrim, or to avoid the shame of holding intercourse with so obnoxious a person. But Jesus informs him that something further was necessary, to become his disciple, than such an acknowledgment. The language of Christ upon this occasion is highly metaphorical, and addressed to the secret thoughts of Nicodemus, rather than to any thing which appears upon the face of his inquiries, and is, therefore, attended with a considerable degree of obscurity.
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.
Except a man part with his errors and his prejudices, particularly that error which leads so many of the Jews to suppose that the kingdom of God is to be of a temporal nature, he is not qualified to become my disciple. To see the kingdom of God, is the same thing as being admitted into it; just in the same manner as seeing death is put for dying, Luke ii. 26. What Christ says upon this occasion may be illustrated by what he says to the Pharisees upon another, Luke xvii. 20, 21, “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation,” or external show, “ the kingdom of God is within you;" that is, it consists in right dispositions of mind. It is also said of John, that he preached the baptism of repentance, which implied a change of mind.
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?
What Christ had spoken of a spiritual, Nicodemus understands of a natural birth, and is therefore perplexed with the difficulty which he here states,
5. Jesus answered, Verily, verily I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the spirit, rather, 6 and of spirit,” he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
These words are an answer to the question of Nicodemus, respecting the necessity of being born again, in which Christ shows that the birth of which he was speaking was of a spiritual nature, a change of principles. This spiritual birth, of which baptism with water was but the symbol, he again solemnly asserts to be necessary, to fit a man for being a proper member of his kingdom in this world. There seems, also, in these words, a reference to the manner in which this member of the Sanhedrim had come to him, which was by night. In opposition to this conduct, which discovered much timidity, Christ tells him, that it was necessary to make a public profession of his religion by baptism. Of this ceremony, as applied to proselytes from heathenism, the Jews were accustomed to speak as a new birth, and to represent the subjects of it as acquiring hereby new relations, and losing those which they had in their unconverted state. Hence it was that Jesus also speaks of the baptism which his religion required, under the phrase, being born of water. To be born of the spirit, or of spirit, is to be spiritually born, in opposition to a natural birth.
6. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the spirit is spirit.
The natural life is different from the spiritual, nor do the privileges of the one belong to the other. These words contain the reason of bestowing the bles, sings of the kingdom of Christ upon those who are spiritually born, and of withholding them from those who have no other claim than what arises from natural birth, as was the case with the Jews, who were the · natural descendents of Abraham.
7. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
8. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the spirit.
There is here a comparison made between the wind and that renovation of principles of which Jesus had been speaking; for as the wind is invisible, but known to exist by its sound and other effects; so this reno, vation of principles, although invisible, produces great and important effects, and qualifies men for enjoying the privileges before mentioned, as conferred upon it. This comparison is instituted, in order to show the value of this new life; and the ground of that extraordinary distinction which is given to it.
9. Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?
10. Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?
Art thou acquainted with the Jewish religion, and dost thou not know what is meant by a spiritual birth? Jesus might well express his surprise at the ignorance of Nicodemus on this subject, since similar language, as we have before observed, was used by his countrymen, who said of proselytes, admitted into the Jewish church by baptism among other sites, that they were born again, and received a new soul; that they were as infants just born. A man accustomed to such language, ought to have found no difficulty in understanding that of Christ.
11. Verily, verily I say uuto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.
You may depend upon what I now assert, as what I have received in commission from God, although the Jews in general do not receive my doctrine as coming from God.
12. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things?
If, when I employ the phrases yourselves use concerning your own rites and customs, ye understand and believe me not; how will ye understand and believe when I declare those truths which I am sent of God to reveal, in language adapted thereto? Some of these truths he obscurely hints at in the succeeding verses.
By earthly things, however, some understand the things in which John the Baptist instructed the Jews; and by heavenly things, those which were peculiar to the mission of Christ; and, in confirmation of this interpretation, they observe that John himself, verse the thirty-first, uses the same language in this sense. “ He that comes from above is above all: he that is of the earth is carthly, and speaks of the carth; he that cometh from heaven is above all.”
13. And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven; even the son of man, which is in heaven.
That the first clause of this verse. « And no man hath ascended up to heaven,” cannot be understood literally, of a local ascent to heaven, is evident from this consideration, that it is not true : for it is generally supposed that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, when he disappeared from the world, was taken up there; and it is certain that Elijah was carried thither in a
do it wen, and bring it dest say, who sm, “It is no
whirlwind. Neither is it true, as this clause seems to insinuate, in connection with the rest of the verse, that Jesus Christ had ascended to heaven: for we have no account of any such event in the history of his life, except when he took leave of his disciples, after his resurrection. We must have recourse, therefore, to some other method of explaining the words.
Now, according to our way of conceiving of things, a man, in order to become acquainted with the divine counsels, ought to ascend to heaven, and converse with God; hence it is that to ascend to heaven, or, to be in heaven, comes to signify being admitted to the knowledge of the divine counsels. Thus Moses, when informing the Jews how clearly God had revealed his will to them, Deut. xxx. 12, tells them, “ It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us that we may hear it and do it?" Now, if ascending up to heaven is not be understood literally of a local ascent, neither is coming down from heaven to be understood of a local descent from heaven, where Christ, or the son of man, had never been. What then is the meaning of coming down from heaven? Nothing more than being of divine origin, or coming from God, in opposition to coming from men. It is in this sense that Christ uses the phrase, when he says to the Jews, Matt. xxi. 25, “The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men?" that is, was it instituted by God, or by men? As the baptism of John, then, was from heaven, because of divine appointment, so Christ may be said to come down from heaven, because he had a commission from God to teach. The language which is in this passage applied to a person, is, on other occasions, applied to things, where no one can suppose there is a local descent. Thus the apostle James says, “ Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights." Men are furnished with food and raiment from the earth, on which they live; yet these blessings are here said to come down from God in heaven, because they are his gifts.
We now come to the last clause of the verse, “The son of man, which is in heaven,” The son of man