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liberality was esteemed to be as unbounded as his means of being liberal; and so great was his reputation for piety, that his prayers were, on more than one occasion, believed by the Jews to have wrought miracles, and called down rain from heaven. These stories are, doubtless, improbable; nor do they rest on any better authority than the traditions of the Rabbins and the Pharisees; but, wild as they are, they prove, at least, the high estimation in which he was held, insomuch that the riches of Nicodemus, and the subsequent misfortunes of his family, became a sort of proverb, to express the excess and the uncertainty of worldly prosperity.
A grave, and learned, and wealthy, and renowned man, with so much to hazard from any change, and so naturally disposed to favour the present state of things, was not likely to be forward in embracing a new religion, or one which was only recommended by so poor and so young a teacher as our Lord. Besides, as yet, not one of those with whom Nicodemus was accustomed to associate-none of those whose good opinion he chiefly valued-none of the Jews-none of the rich-none of the learned-had ventured openly to confess their suspicions that this strange Galilean whom they persecuted, was, after all, that Messiah which should come into the world; and Nicodemus, it is possible, had joined as loudly as the rest of his brother magistrates, in discountenancing the new prophet, and his forerunner, John, and in deriding the poor fishermen and silly women, who believed in the miracles which Jesus performed.
It is probable, nevertheless, that this ruler of the Jews had been, for some time, uneasy in his mind. It was impossible für a man so well acquainted with the law and the prophets, not to observe that Jesus of Nazareth did all the works, and displayed all the tokens, which Moses and the prophets had foretold of the Messiah; and his rank and leisure gave him every opportunity of learning the particulars of our Lord's miraculous birth, and of the circumstances by which his early life was rendered remarkable. He had, doubtless, heard from the Herod family themselves, the visit of the Wise Mer of the East, and the fears which that visit excited. The Star must have been seen by all Judea ; and he himself, perhaps, for he was of advanced age, was one of the doctors who had admired the understanding and answers of young Jesus in the Temple. At all events, the manner in which St. John the Baptist proclaimed him the Lamb of God, was known to all Judea and Galilee; and the wonderful works which Jesus wrought, were of a kind not to be concealed, nor to be performed by any man, unless the power and presence of God were with him.
As these reflections recurred daily, with increasing strength, to the mind of Nicodemus, his perplexity must have increased in proportion. He would consider with himself, whether, if Jesus were really the Christ, the Messiah that was expected by the Jews, he were justified in delaying to fall down and worship him if he were really the Lamb of God who was to take away the sins of the world, what might be his punishment if he neglected this great salvation ?
Such meditations might frequently occupy his mind; but to obey the conviction gradually implanted in his soul, involved the sacrifice of much reputation,-great danger to his rank and esteem in society,_and, when the temper of the times was considered, the loss of his property, and, perhaps, of life itself. Nicodemus was not one of those who are ready to abandon riches and reputation for the sake of God, and to enter naked into the kingdom of life; he durst not own Christ publicly, yet he could not help believing on him; and after, it may be, inuch inward struggle between his fear of the world and his conviction of the truth, he has recourse to the usual expedient of cowardice-he comes by night to Jesus, and professes himself his disciple privately.
In his manner of doing this, and in the conversation which followed, may be perceived much of that pride of rank and riches which was likely to possess the mind of a nobleman ;--much of that confidence in his own learning and in his own virtues, to which the Pharisees were but too liable;—and in our Saviour's subsequent discourse, his intention of humbling both these feelings in the heart of his new disciple, is, I think, evident.
Nicodemus, perhaps, was of opinion, that when so mighty and so wise a man as he was, came to Christ, and owned himself his disciple, the Prophet would be willing to accept so eminent a convert on his own terms; that he would not insist on his submitting to the usual and public ceremonies of his faith ; but that in private, and without revealing his secret, Jesus would gladly admit him to far more favour and confidence than those poor Galileans, who were, as yet, his principal followers. Nor, had Jesus been a deceiver, a mere human teacher of righteousness, would he have scrupled at a measure so evidently conducive to his interest; nor, in such a case, would even that haughty compliment have been improper, with which the ruler opened his visit.
“ Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God; for no man can do the miracles which thou doest, except God be with him." These were, undoubtedly, flattering words from the wealthy and the powerful; but on the Son of God no such lip-righteousness would impose. Interrupting him in his unfinished speech, he discovers at once his knowledge of what was passing in the mind of his visitant, and reminds him that he had not yet gone through those precious pledges of sincerity and repentance, which alone could admit men to familiarity with Christ. With remarkable earnestness, while reading his visitant's soul, he detects the blended pride and cowardice which struggled with his faith, and made him only half a Christian; he replies, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus, as a learned Jew, must have been well acquainted with the meaning of “ the kingdom of God," and he must have been no less so with the phrase, “ being born again,” which was a common expression, both among the Jews and Gentiles, to signify that inward and entire change of heart and habits, of which baptism was the outward symbol or pledge, and which both Jews and Gentiles required from those, who were candidates for admission into the higher privileges and mysteries of their respective forms of worship. The heathens themselves had the custom of sprinkling with water those who gave themselves up to the worship of any of their gods, and the person who submitted to this ceremony, was said to be born again, and to become the child of that deity to whom he consecrated his after life. The Normans, when they set a slave at liberty, called that ceremony, the “ regeneration" of the slave; and the same name was given by the Jews to that baptism by which heathens and idolaters, and excommunicated persons, were admitted to the profession of the laws of Moses.
Our Saviour's meaning was (and Nicodemus could not but understand it), to reprove his visitant for thus privately confessing a faith in which he ought to have gloried, and to remind him, that if he sought to be a disciple of the Messiah, he must first go to his apostles, and be baptised. But this, however, little suited the ruler's inclination. To make so public a profession of an unpopular faith, was discreditable, and might be dangerous (for baptism, by a tradition of the Jews, was always performed in the day-time, and before witnesses). To humble himself, and receive the pledge of adoption from a publican like Matthew, or such mean Galileans as John, or James, or Peter, was, to a ruler, shocking, and in the eyes of a Pharisee, and doctor of the law, an almost impious degradation. And to own himself a sinner and impure, to profess that his whole nature required a change, and to undergo that ceremony, which was the seal of confession and forgiveness, to repentant idolaters, or publicans, or harlots, appeared to this self-righteous man, a strange and unnecessary proposal. A great deal, I think, of surprised and disappointed pride is perceptible in his reply, “ How can a man be born again when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb, and be born?
He thus endeavours to evade the obvious application of our Saviour's words; and he urges, in answer to this command of Christ's, his age, his high character, his privileges, as a native Israelite and a descendant of Abraham; and endeavours to persuade Jesus, that a man of his age, and consequence, and respectability, could have no need of baptism, or of that repentance and change of life and habits, of which baptism was the sign. “How can a man be born again
when he is old?" Dost thou suppose that at my age, a doctor of the laws and a master in Israel, I want any change of this sort? What tedious ceremonies or probation can I submit to, old as I am? How long wilt thou keep me in the same dependence and humility which we expect of children, or heathen converts? What yet is wanting to a descendant of Abraham like myself? Can I make myself any more a child of promise than I am already? “Can I enter a second time into my mother's womb?" from which former birth I became an heir of Israel, and the countryman, perhaps the kinsman, of the Messiah! “ Verily, verily,” our Lord again replies," I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” As if he had said-Alas! old man, many things are necessary to make thee a child of God, of which thou hast, as yet, but little notion : not only is the outward sacrament of regeneration by water required, but a great and spiritual change, altogether distinct from those privileges on which thou layest so great a stress, of the birthright of a Jew, and thy descent from Abraham. “ That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” From thy mother's womb, of which thou talkest, thou hast only derived a fleshly life; those Jewish promises which thou inheritest, and wherein thou boastest thyself, are all of a worldly nature, and flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. “ That which is born of the spirit is spirit," and the birth of the spirit only can introduce thee to the spiritual privileges in which the kingdom of God consists. “Marvel not that I say unto thee, ye must be born again;" nor dream, that because thou art born a Jew, thou hast, by that national birth, an exclusive title to the kingdom. “ The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, nor whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the spirit.” As if he had said, Canst thou direct, or comprehend the course of the wind of heaven? Canst thou command its free and blessed breezes to visit the Jews alone? Yea, thou knowest not whence it cometh, nor whither it goeth ; but thou hearest the sound thereof—that sound which is gone forth into all lands, and as far as the ends of the earth. Can earthly wisdom find it, or can the works of man produce it? No, it bloweth where it listeth; and Jew and Greek, Pharisee and Idolater, are born of the spirit, they know not how, and are purified by its invisible influence, which is known only by its effects, and the fruit that it generates.
The surprise of Nicodemus was now no longer feigned or querulous: that the privileges of the blood of Abraham should be accounted for nothing, and that the revelation of God's will should spread, like the wind, from one corner of heaven to the other-these, to a Pharisee, were indeed unexpected truths, and he replies in wonder, “ How can these things be?” Yet, in truth, these very circumstances were all foretold by the prophets as proofs of the Messiah's coming: and it was foretold, that the gathering of the Gentiles should be to Him : it was foretold, that His coming was like a refiner's fire, to renew the hearts of his people: and the ignorance which Nicodemus displayed as to these signs of the times, is a satisfactory proof how much the Pharisees had left off the study of the Scriptures for the vanity of traditions, and the useless scruples of outward forms of devotion or reverence. They pored over the commentaries of the Scribes, till they forgot Isaiah and Moses; they washed their cups, and strained at the gnats, and made broad their phylacteries, till the real glories, of which their ceremonies were but a shadow, were hidden altogether from their eyes. Well then might Christ exclaim against Nicodemus, " Art thou a master in Israel, and art thou not yet familiar with the prophets? Much, indeed, hast thou to learn and to unlearn before thou canst be my disciple; and far art thou, to whom the outward signs of Christ's coming are thus new and strange, from being able to understand the mysteries of the kingdom of God.”
This wise and powerful, and on the whole, perhaps, well-meaning man, was rejected as a convert by Christ, because he thought himself too pure to need baptism and repentance, and because he did not dare to avow his faith publicly, lest the loss of station, wealth, and character, should be the consequence. As VOL. XI. NO. XI.
long as our Saviour lived, Nicodemus had never sufficient courage to join his disciples, but when he saw the fulfilment of His prophecy, and beheld the Son of man lifted up like the serpent of Moses, as he had foretold in the concluding part of their conversation, this proof of His divinity overcame his doubts, and we behold him coming boldly forward to celebrate His burial with a late, though sincere repentance. How inuch must he then have lamented his own tardiness-how much have hated himself for that cowardice, which was ashamed of the Messiah, while he might have gazed on His countenance, and listened to His words; and how greatly must he have feared, lest his day of grace was gone by for ever!-Pp. 44–55.
Here, then, we should take our leave of Mr. Dale; but, for the credit of criticism, we cannot do so without finding fault; and, therefore, as we cannot pick a hole in his book, we will in his Preface. It seems that the “ Iris” was first announced under the title of the “ Offering," to which it was objected that it interfered with the appellation of another work of the same class, which has been for some time before the public, and a squabble accordingly ensued between the publishers of these literary rivals. From the Preface to the “ Iris” it appears that they of the contrary part were not over civil in their mode of proceeding, and spoke in no measured terms of the “piracy” of their title. As no unfair dealing was intended on the part of the proprietors of the “Offering," the title was readily given up, and would have been so without any dispute; though, for our parts, we cannot see what reason there was for complaint with the party who conceived themselves aggrieved. However similar the titles of the two works might have been, for they were very far from identical, their objects are so entirely distinct, that one could not, by any probable chance, have been mistaken for the other. As well might Mr. Ackermann impeach the honesty of the Juvenile Forget Me Not, as the proprietors of the Friendship's Offering talk of injunctions to their brethren of the Iris. Such, however, was the case; but what in the world, we would ask, have the public to do with the matter? Does any one person, from Cornhill to Lamb's Conduit Street, barring always those immediately concerned, care one sixpence whether the admirable volume, edited by Mr. Dale, be called the Offering or the Iris? We do not certainly: and, though we shall read the Friendship's Offering, and possibly notice it in common with the other Annuals in our next Number, yet we do not think it will sell a single additional number by offering enmity to a fair competitor for a portion of the public patronage.
After the above was written, and just as we were going to press, The Amulet came to hand. The character of this work, which has now reached its fifth volume, is well known to our readers; so that it will be unnecessary to say any thing on that head. Indeed, we have only time to take a very rapid glance over its contents, which, however, is sufficient to convince us that it is decidedly the best volume
take a very rany thing on that n our readers
which the editor has yet produced. The embellishments, twelve in number, are exquisite; and the work is got up in a style which does infinite credit to the taste and liberality of the publishers. We extract a Sonnet by the Hon. Mrs. Norton.
Oh! for the time the happy sinless time
When first we murmur'd forth our infant prayer,
Gazed on the sky, and deemed that God dwelt there!
That time is past-burdened with sin and care
But as their echo trembles on the air,
Breathing of those fine days ere passion's sigh
Polluted the petition sent on high ;-
Art. III. - The Evidences of Christianity: Stated in a Popular and
Practical Manner, in a Course of Lectures, delivered in the Parish Church of St. Mary. Islington. By Daniel Wilson, A. M. Vicar. In Two Vols. London: Wilson. 1828. Vol. I. Pp. 550. Price 12s.
We are known to be no very ardent admirers of Mr. Daniel Wilson's theological system and ecclesiastical views; we are known to entertain no very high value for the turgid pretensions of the party to which he has attached himself; and we have no hesitation in expressing our most unqualified disgust at his recent political conduct, which, since he has deemed it of sufficient consequence to deserve a somewhat elaborate public apology, is fair matter of public discussion. Every honourable sympathy of the heart is outraged, when we behold any fellow man resigning, in one moment, and without the pretext of a new reason, old and important principles, to gratify an individual or a faction; but let the apostate be a MINISTER OF THE GOSPEL-we attempt not to express what is but too inexpressible.
But we have no intention to enter here on Mr. Wilson's public conduct. This is not the place to do so. In the above brief remarks, if we consult not the reputation of the author, we consult that of his work. We have made this statement solely with the view of showing, that those commendations, which we really think the volume under our consideration deserves, are not the result of favourable prepossessions, but really extorted from us by the merit of our subject.
We believe the feeling of the public is rather against evidences of Christianity. Of the truly good (and there are many), there is not perhaps one treatise, from Lardner's colossal “Credibility,” to the pithy and vigorous manuals of Leslie, Erskine, and Soame Jenyne, which does not of itself prove the whole question in debate. Their