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EDWIN HUBBELL CHAPIN, Universalist divine, was born in Union Village, Washington County, N. Y., in 1814. He began his very successful ministry 1837 in Richmond, Va., subsequently he preached in Charlestown, Mass., from which place he was called to the pastorate of the Fourth Universalist Church in New York City. His preaching attracted large congregations, and he was generally regarded as one of the greatest preachers of this country. He spoke from a manuscript, using no gesture, but his magnetic personality never failed to drive his message home. He published numerous volumes of sermons and lectures. He died in 1880.
NICODEMUS: THE SEEKER AFTER
There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night. -John iii., 1, 2.
LTHO we have but few glimpses of
Nicodemus in the gospels, he is a per
sonage of peculiar interest. A Pharisee, and a member of the great Jewish senate, or Sanhedrin, he shows us that the influence of Christ was not limited to the poor and the obscure; but that, while His words and works awoke enmity and fear among the higher classes, they struck, in the breasts of some of these, a holier chord.
It may not be certain that Nicodemus ever openly confest Christ; yet, in this chapter, he appears in the attitude of a disciple, and we find him defending Jesus before the Sanhedrin, and assisting at His burial. Still, unless the last-mentioned act be considered as such, we do not discover, in his conduct, that public and decisive acknowledgment which the Savior required; we do not behold the frank avowal of Peter, or the intrepidity of Paul.
There is an air of caution and of timidity about him. He carefully feels the ground of innovation, before he lets go the establishment; and, indeed, he appears to have taken no step by which he forfeited his caste or his office. It is difficult, too, to discover the precise purpose of this visit to Jesus. Perhaps he sought the interview from mixed motives. A religious earnestness, kindled by the teachings and the character of Christ, may have blended with speculative curiosity, and even with the throbbings of political ambition. His coming by night, too, may have indicated timidity, or he may have chosen that season as the best time for quiet and uninterrupted discourse. But, whatever may have been his motives, the position in which we find him shows, Í repeat, that the power of Christ's ministry was felt, not only by the excitable multitude, but by the more thoughtful and devout of the Jewish people.
Nicodemus, however, presents a peculiar interest, not only because he exhibits the influence of Jesus upon the higher orders of his nation, but because he appears as a seeker after religion, and as one personally interested in its vital truths. His interview with the Savior gives occasion for one of the most important passages in the New Testament. The conversation of Christ, in this instance, is not uttered in general principles and accommodated to the multitude, but it is directed to
an intelligent and inquiring spirit, in the calm privacy of the night-time laying bare its very depths, and craving the application of religion to its own peculiar wants. To be sure, Nicodemus did not profess this want, but commenced the conversation with the language of respect, and with suggestion of more general inquiry. But He who knew what was in man," had already penetrated the folds of the ruler's breast, and saw the real need that had sent him; so, putting by all compliments, and all secondary issues, He struck at once the conscious chord that throbbed there, and exclaimed: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God!" These words must have filled Nicodemus with surprize, both from their sudden heart-searchingness, and as addressing to him a term which was usually applied to men of very different condition. For the phrase, “new birth,'' was a customary one to express the change through which the Gentile passed in becoming a Jew. But it was indeed a strange doctrine that he, a son of Abraham, a Pharisee, a ruler, must be born again, before he could be fit for the Messiah's kingdom. Therefore, really or affectedly, he misunderstood the Savior's words, and gave to a phrase, plain enough when applied to a heathen, the most gross and literal interpretation. But Christ reiterated the solemn truth assuring him that an inward change, and an
outward profession, a regeneration of the affections and the will, and a renunciation of pride and fear, by the symbol of baptism-a new birth of water and of the Spirit-was essential to true discipleship. And thus, stripping away all the reliances of formal righteousness, and all the supports of birth and position, in reply to the earnest question of Nicodemus: “How can these things be?” the great Teacher proceeded to utter some of the sublimest doctrines of the gospel.
As I have already said, whether Nicodemus became an avowed follower of Jesus, or not, is uncertain; but we know that the truths which he then heard are of everlasting importance, have a personal application to every man, and appeal to wants in our own souls, which are as real and as deep as those of the ruler of old.
But while thus Nicodemus exhibits a need of our common humanity, he especially represents a class who may be called ''seekers after religion," either as being unsettled and inquiring in their spirits, or as resting upon something which is not religion, but only, perhaps, a tendency toward it—they are seekers after it, as not having actually found it. In other words, for this class, religion has its meaning and its pressure; they think about it, and they feel its claims, yet they do not thoroughly and mentally know it; or, like Nicodemus, they rest upon some substitute.