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could not, at this time, be in heaven: for he was in the world, conversing with Nicodemus : but in a figurative sense he might be said to be in heaven, because he was acquainted with the divine counsels. The evangelist had already used a still stronger expression respecting Christ, John i. 18, where he says, that he was in the bosom of the Father; that is, enjoying a communication of the divine counsels, as freely as a person who sits next to another at table and is said to lie in his bosom.
These words of Christ, then, you see do not relate to any prior existence of his, before his birth in Judæa; but, when divested of their metaphorical dress, signify no more than that he was more fully acquainted with the divine counsels than any other prophet, and authorized to communicate them to the world.
1. In the conduct of Nicodemus we see the influence of rank and worldly prudence, in perverting men from their duty. He was convinced that Jesus was a prophet, or a divinely authorized teacher ; but he was unwilling to acknowledge this openly, by publicly appearing in his company, and therefore came to him by night. Many plausible reasons, no doubt, offered themselves to his mind to justify him in this conduct. Had he unequivocally avowed himself the disciple of Jesus, he inust have exposed himself to the displeasure of his brethren in the Sanhedrim, who would have reprimanded him for his misconduct, and perhaps expelled him from their body; or, if suffered to hold his office, he would have been cautiously shunned by his former associates, and his influence been entirely lost. A regard to his own usefulness, therefore, would justify him, he might imagine, in this concealment. But while he calculated the evil which would arise from the open profession of Christianity, he overlooked the much greater good that would have been done to the cause of truth by the patronage of so distinguished a person. While he pleased himself with the idea of acting upon the principles of prudence, he was actuated by a selfishi regard to his own convenience, and sacrificed the interests of the public to the apprehended interests of an iridividual. So do those likewise, who, in the present day, decline the open acknowledgment of important truth, and satisfy themselves with the profession of it in private; the language of prudence is upon their lips, and of a concern to retain the power of doing good, while a selfish concern for themselves is at their hearts. Let us not follow the example of such men, but remember that where error has been publicly supported, it ought to be as publicly renounced; not in one instance only, but on every occasion; not in words only, but by our actions also; for these often speak a more decisive language than any words. In this 'manner only can we expect to obtain the approbation of a master who knew no disguise himself, and could not countenance it in
any of his disciples. When Nathanael came to him in open day, he is welcomed as an Israelite in whom there is no guile; but when Nicodemus comes to him by night, he is received with coldness, and rebuked for his timidity; and every method is taken to discourage a proselyte who appeared to be actuated by worldly prudence.
2. Let us never forget the reality and importance of that new life which Christianity produces, and which consists in the belief of right principles, and in a renovation of character. This is the great design of the gospel of Christ, and without it, a professed faith in its doctrines, and an outward conformity to its institutions, are of no value. It was to begin and complete this spiritual life that Christ appeared in the world; that he wrought so many miracles; and that he suffered and died. Let us judge of our proficiency in Christianity by the growth of this life in our minds; manifesting itself by increasing love and reverence for the Divine Being, and growing diligence in doing good to men.
Greatly are they mistaken who infer, from the stress which Christ laid upon baptism for adults, as a public profession of his religion, the necessity of administering this ordinance to infants, in order to their admission into the future and everlasting kingdom of Christ; and who are, for this reason, anxious to have the ceremony performed, when their children are ill, and even dying. Baptism was intended for the benefit of the living, and not of the dead; to engage parents to teach children Christian principles, and to set before them a Christian example, and not to give them a passport to heaven.
3. What Christ says respecting his being in heaven, while on earth, or acquainted with the divine counsels for our salvation, and of his being come down from heaven, or commissioned to reveal them to mankind, may afford us just ground of satisfaction and joy What we are most concerned to know is not who Christ is in respect to his person; whether a man or 1 I an angel; whether a being of our own nature, who existed two thousand years ago in Judæa, or one of a superior order, who existed before the globe of the earth was created; but what message he brings from God to men; what evidence he exhibits of being acquainted with the divine counsels. If we are well assured that he is a divine messenger, and that he hath the most important truths to communicate, it may be a matter worthy of inquiry, but comparatively of little consequence, who the messenger is : when thus recommended he is entitled to our respect and confidence, however frail his nature, however mean his appearance, and although he should be a man like ourselves.
John ii. 14-24.
14. And as Moses lifted up, or, on high,” the serpent in the wilderness,
even so must the son of man be lifted up; " set on high."
When Jesus found that Nicodemus did not understand what he had said to him, about the necessity of being born again, or of abandoning his Jewish prejudices, before he could be a fit subject of his kingdom ; although such kind of language was common among the Jews themselves, when speaking of proselytes to their religion; he said to him, verse twelfth, “ If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things?” That is, as already explained, if, when I employ phrases which yourselves use, when speaking of your own rites and customs, ye understand and believe me not, how will ye understand and believe if I tell you of those truths which I am sent of God to reveal, in language adapted to them. Some of these heavenly things be proceeds to hint at in the verse which I have read to you, and those which follow, beginning with his crucifixion and death: for it is to this that he evidently refers when he speaks of his being lifted up, or set on high. As if he had said; you expect a triumphant Messiah; but I assure you that I shall be a suffering one, and shall be exposed upon the cross, as Moses exposed the serpent in the wilderness; and for a like salutary purpose. When the children of Israel were bitten with fiery serpents, Moses, at the command of God, made a brazen serpent, and set it upon a pole; and every one that was bitten, who looked at this serpent, was cured*. Such, he insinuates, would be the effect of his death; inasmuch as it would, when connected with his resurrection from the dead, convince men of the certainty of a future life, and hereby both reclaim them from their sins, and give them a title to a future, everlasting existence. Christ makes a like allusion to his death, John xii. 32, “ And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.
15. That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
* Numb. xxi. 9.
This whole verse Bishop Pearce supposes to be an interpolation, because it interrupts our Lord's argument, and is word for word the same with the last clause of the following verse.
16. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten son, or, 6 best beloved son,'
that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life,
Christ here assigns the reason why his death, or his being set on high on the cross, would produce that universal salvation from death to which he had referred: it proceeded from the benevolence of the Divine Being, who had sent him into the world, to procure, by his death and the consequences of it, eternal life for all mankind, Gentiles as well as Jews. “You expect that the Messiah will come to save the Jews only, and to triumph over and oppress the Gentiles; but I assure you that he is come to save all, of whatever nation they may be, who look up to him upon the cross, or believe in his divine mission and obey his precepts.” It is observable that he who in this verse is denominated the only-begotten son of God, is, in verse the fourteenth called the son of man; which two expressions are easily reconciled, by supposing that he who, in regard to his nature, was an ordinary man, yet, in respect to divine communications, stood single and unequalled; without having recourse to the strange supposition that the human nature and divine were united in the same person.
17. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.
For God sent not his Son to punish the Gentiles, as you expect, by enabling the Messiah to triumph over them; but to save them. To condemn is here put for