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LIFE OF CHRIST.
CONVERSATION WITH NICODEMUS.
JOHN iii. 7.
Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
Among those who were struck with the miracles performed by Jesus during the passover, was Nicodemus, a pharisee, a member of the great council, and a teacher of the law. Desirous of learning what were the doctrines of one who, by controlling at his pleasure the laws of nature, proved that he was sent from God; yet at the same time, fearful of exciting the anger and reproaches of his fellow-pharisees, and his colleagues in the sanhedrim, who already hated Jesus, he came to the Saviour by night, and said unto him, “ Rabbi, we know thou art a teacher come from God; for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.” In seeking Christ, Nicodemus displayed a love of truth ; in his address he shows respect and candour; but in choosing the night for his visit, he betrays a weakness which dishonours him. Immediately after this address, he seems to have inquired of our Lord, what that doctrine was which he was sent into the world to teach, and which he confirmed and proved by such mighty miracles. Jesus replied, My doctrine is briefly this, whoever will enter into the kingdom of grace here, or glory hereafter, must be born again. Nicodemus, grossly misunderstanding the Saviour's words, and supposing that he spoke literally of a natural birth, Jesus rectified his error, by informing him that he spoke of a birth by water and the Spirit, of a new nature given by the Holy Ghost, and of a reception of the gospel, testified by a submission to its initiating ordinance. Even were a second natural birth possible, he adds, it would be unavailing, since after it a man would be as sinful as before, and since the Spirit alone could give a spiritual and holy nature. 66 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not then that I say unto you, Ye must be born again.” If cannot understand how this second birth is produc
if the influences by which you must be regenerated are imperceptible to sense, yet the effects of regeneration are not so; and in this respect it resembles so many great effects in nature, which you must acknowledge, though you cannot discern their
6. 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.” Nicodemus, still surprised to hear that the Jews as well as the Gentiles were to be born again, exclaims, “ How can these things be?" Jesus answered, “ Art thou a teacher in Israel, and knowest not these things,"
which are so clearly and unequivocally taught in those prophets, in which it is your office to instruct the people?
My brethren, with what awful solemnity should we meditate on these declarations of Him who came from heaven to teach us the will of his Father, and who will award our eternal destinies according to the decisions laid down by him in his holy word ? Favour me then with your attention, while I consider the nature and necessity of regeneration. It is a subject in which every individual is concerned, and to which each one of you should therefore listen with self-application. Every soul now in the house of the Lord is either an unregenerate sinner or a regenerate believer, (there is no middle state) and is of consequence either the enemy or the friend of God, exposed to his curse, or interested in his favour; treading the downward path to hell, or advancing to the kingdom of glory. Of what infinite importance is it that we discover to which of these two classes we belong. May the Lord assist us in making this discovery! Carry thine own word, blessed Jesus, with energy to our souls, that so the careless
be alarmed at their danger, and humbled at their guilt, and thine own children filled with the assurance of hope, and with joy in believing.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. Marvel not that I say unto you, Ye must be born again.”
Before I mention those marks whereby you may determine whether this all-important change has been experienced by you, suffer me to make a few previous remarks illustrative of it.
1. The change expressed by the term regeneration, is a moral and not a physical change. The sub
stanče, the essence of our nature remain unaltered. A holy principle is implanted in the soul, but there is no transmutation of its substance. When Christ changed water into wine, when the rod of Moses became a serpent, these things changed their nature itself. There is nothing like this, or like the change of a beast into a man, or of a plant into an animal, in regeneration. The faculties of the soul, like all the works of the Creator, are good in themselves. To be capable of knowing, of thinking, of willing; this is the essence of the soul; and it is not destroyed by regeneration. After regeneration it is the same man, having the same constituent parts, the same faculties of body and soul: but a holy temper is given to the soul, a spiritual principle is implanted in it, which produces a perfect change in the operation of the affections and passions, and in the conduct of the life.
2. This declaration of our Saviour implies that the change produced in a natural man at his conversion, is a great, a radical, and an internal change. If conversion were but a trifling matter, if there were not an immense difference between the renewed and unrenewed soul, the Saviour would not have used the strong language of the text. If to “ see the kingdom of God” nothing was requisite but a pharisaic righteousness, or a philosophical virtue; or even if it were necessary only to be in the visible church of Christ : to be acquainted with the truths of the gospel, and frequently to converse on them; to attend diligently the ordinances of religion; to present some prayers to God, and to give some alms to the distressed. If
his were all that God requires, there would be no necessity of our being born again. Nay, even a partial change of the inward man is insufficient to correspond with all the force of this term. To what
purpose should we boast of having experienced the illumination of Balaam, the humiliation of Ahab, the confession of Judas, the faith of Simon Magus, the confidence of the unbelieving Jews, the attention of Ezekiel's auditors, the reformation of Herod, and (what perhaps includes all these together) the promising appearances of the stony-ground hearers, if like them we rest in this partial change? All this can be produced by human endeavours, by moral persuasions. To accomplish all this, it is not necessary that we be “born again-born of the Spirit.” If this were all that is required of us, it would not have been necessary for the Son of God to leave his heaven, to suffer, and bleed upon the cross. It would not have been necessary for the Holy Ghost to descend, or for God to work. Deceive not yourselves. Regeneration must mean more than cold forms, moral virtues, and partial amendment; and if you experience nothing else, “verily, verily I say unto you, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” All this is only covering the wrinkles of the old Adam with a little paint, and concealing his deformity by a handsome mask. Take it then for granted, that if the change you have undergone be not radical, universal, and inward, you are yet in your sins.
3. These expressions, “ Ye must be born again, born of the Spirit,” imply that this change is the work of God, the effect of his omnipotence, and his immediate operation. Thus it is said expressly that “we are the workmanship of God, created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” Before regeneration the scriptures constantly declare us to be dead in trespasses and sins;" without motion, activity, and power. Apply all natural agents to corrupted man; you will never by these alone make of him a new man, animated