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passage, it will be useful to call to mind the peculiar national and religious prejudices and expectations that prevailed among the Jews at the time of our Saviour; and to form as distinct a conception as we can of the particular state of mind in which Nicodemus himself appears to have come to Jesus.
Nicodeinus was a 'ruler of the Jews,' a member of the Sanhedrin, the great Jewish council; and both from dignity of station, and rank as a Pharisee, he seems to have been a person of much influence and credit with his countrymen. He had probably listened often to the instructions, and become acquainted with the character, he bad evidently witnessed the miracles of Jesus with surprise and admiration; and the effect of all had been to impress upon bis mind the conviction that he was no impostor; that he was no ordinary personage; that he spake and acted with a wisdom and power more than human; that he was in some sense a Teacher come from God.' On the other hand, though he, like all his nation, was at that time eagerly looking for the appearance of the Messiah, who had been the subject of so many prophecies, and of so long and anxious expectation, he perceived in the person of Jesus, in his conduct, his attendants, his preaching, no signs or characteristics of the Messiah on whom the national desires and hopes were fixed. Instead of assuming the badges and style of royalty, exercising the power, and exhibiting the pomp of a king, Jesus was humble in his birth, condition, and appearance; he affected not human honors or applause; he studiously avoided all interference with the civil authorities to which bis nation was subject; the few attendants that most constantly surrounded his person, were from the obscure walks of life; the power which he displayed,-a power obviously and confessedly more than human, was exerted in doing good, more frequently to the humblest than to the most exalted, to the children of want, misfortune, affliction, suffering; he sought not the society or favor of the great, the rich, and powerful; but while he appeared neither to fear por envy them, he disdained not to teach the obscure multitude, he condescended even to heal the diseases of the lowest, and seemed not to think himself polluted or dishonored by the presence and converse of sinners; in his public addresses he held out to his countrymen no flattering hopes and promises of a speedy deliverance from the yoke of civil bondage, of a glorious triumph over all their enemies, and of splendid national aggrandizement; he only taught a rigid morality, universal benevolence, and a religion without show,--a religion of the heart! Yet there was a dignity in bis person, bearing no correspondence to his acknowledged extraction; there was a lostiness in his pretensions which he never yielded, and which he showed himself on fit occasions able to assert and sustain; there was a remarkable concurrence of prophecies seemingly verified in him, and the application of which to himself he as remarkably vindicated; there was in his instructions an air of sincerity and truth, an originality and eloquence, and an authority withal, which could not be disputed; there was an innocence, a disinterestedness, a purity, and sublimity, in his character, which seemed as much to raise him above the suspicion of imposture, as they certainly marked him out as an extraordinary personage. How could all these things be explained ? Nicodemus, we may imagine, determined to allay or terminate the struggle in his mind between conviction, doubt, prejudice, and fear, or at least to obtain some farther satisfaction, and gratify an excited curiosity, by a personal interview with Jesus by night, when he should be unobserved by his countrymen, when the multitude often collected around Jesus, should be dispersed, and but few or none of the attendants which usually followed him, should be present to witness the interview. Accordingly he sought Jesus out, and approached him with the salutation, Rabbi, we know that thou art a Teacher come from God; for no man can do these miracles which thou doest, except God be with him,'-a salutation, which was, without doubt, honestly and
sincerely intended to express the respect and awe which he felt for him, to gain his confidence, and to obtain from himn a more full disclosure of his real character, views and purposes. Jesus, by that superior power of discernment with which he was endowed, knew the motives and designs of his visiter. And as the great objects of his mission were ever present to his mind, and he never repulsed any who sought instruction from him in a proper spirit, he was not wanting to the occasion wbich' now offered of explaining, in such a form and to such a degree as he perceived was not unseasonable and might be useful, the nature and design of that kingdom which he came to introduce and establish ainong his countrymen, and in the world.
It may here be remarked, and a similar remark and caution may be applied to other parts of the Gospels, that we are by no means necessarily to suppose that the whole conversation on this occasion is given by the Evangelist in detail; much may have been omitted; the prominent parts only, it is probable, have been transmitted to us. This
may account for the apparent abruptness and irrelevancy of what is represented as the reply of our Lord to the salutation of Nicodemus. Or, perhaps, he addressed bimself directly to the state of mind in which he perceived that his visiter approached him. The only reply which is recorded, is that solemn asseveration, · Verily, verily I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God;'-except a man, that is, a Jew, (for it is to be carefully heeded tisat Jesus was addressing a Jew, and was proceeding to Combat Jewish errors and prejudices; it is necessary to bear this constantly in mind, in order fully to perceive the force and pertinency of our Saviour's language on this occasion:) Except the Jew be born again be cannot see the kingdom of God. This last phrase,' the kingdom of God, may be explained as used to denote, in a very comprehensive sense, the state of things under the Messiah. To see or enter the kingdom of God,
may be understood to mean, not so much to witness the commencement and final establishment, as to have a personal part in it, to share in and enjoy its benefits and felicities. The term born, was familiarly used among the Jews in a metaphorical sense, in a moral or religious acceptation. Proselytes embracing the Jewish religion, and receiving baptism as a pledge and sign of their conversion, were spoken of as born ag rin, regenerated. The origin of this phraseology may be traced to the peculiar importance which the Jews were accustomed to attach to their natural descent from Abraham, and which they regarded as constituting them the children of God, and heirs of his favor. Others, indeed, out of the limits of the Jewish nation, born out of the pale of the Jewish church, might be adopted into the family of the faithful; and the ceremony and occasion of their adoption, were very naturally described under the image, and regarded in the light, of a new, or second birth, since in the privileges it conserored, or was supposed to conser, it was to them, what natural birth was to the chosen posterity of Abraham.
Our Lord, then, in the passage under consideration, may be understood as affirming, Except the Jew be born again, he cannot share in the felicities of tlie approaching reign of the Messiah.
To be born again was language which must have been familiar and intelligible to Nicodemus, as applied to proselytes to Judaism; but he appears not to have conceived it possible, that it could admit of application to the children of Israel. Of the propriety and meaning of this language as applied to them and as descriptive of a necessary qualification for admission to the kingdom of the Messiah, he seems to have had no notion. And surely, we may suppose him to have reasoned with bimself, Jesus cannot mean the being literally born again; for · how,' asks he, 'can a man be born, when he is old ? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? How can I, and others
of my nation, who have arrived to mature or advanced years, be born a second time, before we can be admitted into the kingdom of the Messiah? Jesus replied by repeating the declaration, but in different and somewhat more explicit terms; 'Verily, verily I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.' I have quoted the passage, as it appears in our version. It is to be observed, that it is printed, 'born of water and of the Spirit,' with the article prefixed to the last word, and with a capital letter as the initial. This is calculated to suggest immediately, and very naturally, to the common reader, the idea that the Spirit of God is meant, or, as some would understand it, the third
in the Trinity. Either supposition would be erroneous. The strict literal translation of the original, is, born of water and spirit. There is no more reason for writing the latter part of the expression, the Spirit, with the article and a capital, than for writing the former, the Water; both are written alike in the origioal, without an article, or a capital. I have no doubt that this circumstance, trivial as it may appear to some, has misled many a reader into an erroneous interpretation of the passage, and has done much to perpetuate the error.
Making then this correction in our version, the declaration of our Lord would stand thus; “except a man be born of water and spirit, be cannot enter into the kingdom of God.' To be born of water,' is to be baptized, and baptism in an outward sign or symbol of a new religious profession. To be born of spirit,' is, simply, to be born in a spiritual sense, to be spiritually born. This was intended undoubtedly to be a repetition, and at the same time an explanation, of what he had first affirmed, 'Ye must be born again.' He repeats it, and explains himself; You must be born of water and spirit; you must be baptized into a new religion, and born in a spiritual sense; the entrance into the kingdom of the Messiah, even to you, the seed of