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supposing, that our Lord meant a natural birth, saith, “ How can a man be born, when he is old ?” Jesus explains himself.
Except a man be born of water, and the Spirit, he canno: enter into the kingdom of God. Thal, which is born of the flesh, is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit, is spirit
. 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
. Nicodemus answered, How can these things be? Jesus answered, Art thou a master in Israel, and knowest not these things ?”
On these words I repeat a remark, already marle, viz. that this language must have some meaning; and further, that this meaning ought to have been known to the Jewish instructors. Christ considered it, as a reproach to Nicodemus, that the latter did not understand what these things meant.
From Selden, as quoted by Whitby, it appears, that proselytes to the Jewish religion were considered, as children new born. This might be said, either on account of the great change of circumstances and relations, implied in passing from paganism into the Jewish church; or on account of a correspondent moral change, which the proselyte was supposed to experience. That our Saviour could not have meant the former, will be evident from a little reflection. To what purpose would it have been for Nicodemus to be told, that the difference was great between the external circumstances of a pagan, and those of a Jew? The Jews were so far from needing to be informed of this, that they boasted of this difference, and of their consequent superiority.
Suppose now, that our Lord had not reference to that change in external circumstances, implied in passing from paganism into the Jewish church; but the change, implied in passing from the Jewish into the christian church. Against this opinion, in addition to the reasons already suggested, there are the following in particular.
J. It was by no means our Saviour's method to display in
striking colours the difference between the external profes. sion of his religion, and the same profession of Judaism.
II. If such were our Saviour's design, we can see little or no meaning, that can be attached to the term spirit, in the following passage; "that which is born of the flesh; is flesh: that which is born of the spirit, is spirit:" nor can we perceive any import in the comparison, which he used. 5 Thou hearest the sound of the wind: but canst not tell whence it cometh, nor whither it goeth: so is every one, that is born of the Spirit.”
It is likewise scarcely possible, I think, that Nicodemus should have expressed so great astonishment, as he continued to express, had our Saviour meant nothing more, than that persons, under the Messiah's reign, would enjoy light, and be placed in circumstances, different from those, previously existing
Let us now suppose, that when the Jews spoke of a proselyte to their religion, as a child new born, the more intelligent and devout of them understood a moral change, corresponding with that which was external; or that both were comprehended in the same expression. In support of this supposition, we have the authority of Michaelis, who tells us, that “ to be born again in the language of the Rabbins, signified to be accepted of God, as a son of Abraham, and, by following the example of his faith, to become worthy of that title." They, who hold this opinion, must have thought, as did the apostle, that “ He is not a Jew, who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew, who is one inwardly: and circumcision is that of heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter, whose praise is not of men, but of God.”
Supposing our Saviour discoursed of a moral change, a renovation of the heart, the whole conference will be quite intelligible. 1. Such a change is represented in other parts of scrip
ture, already cited, as necessary to eternal life, or an en-
, on that supposition, than on any other, we more easily see, why so strong a figure should be used. For a bad man to become a good one, is a much greater alteration, than that which is made in changing from one profession, or communi. ty to another.
III. As there are, in this life, those, whom the Scriptures de nominate ungodly,and those whom hey terms righteous ; punishment being reserved for the one, and reward for the other
abi conversion from sin to piety must be of all things most impor
. tant. It was therefore, perfectly natural, that Jesus Christ
, should have introduced this subject to one, by whom he was acknowledged, as a teacher, sent from God.
IV. This change of moral feelings,-this melioration of character, is, with much frequency, in the Scriptures, attribut
. ed to divine agency: and therefore, what our Lord says of being born of the Spirit, and being born from above, is perfectly intelligible.
Lastly. The supposition, now adopted, justifics the reproof, received by Nicodemus from our Saviour, “ Art thou a master in Israel, and knowest not these things ?" Terms were used among thein, we have seen, which expressed a change of character,-a melioration of heart. And if the highest import of these terms were not discerned by those who used them, namely, hy the Jewish doctors, it must have proceeded from a criminal inattention to their own scriptures : for in these, we find numerous passages, in which, such a change, and the influence of God in producing it, are une quivocally recognized. Such were the words of Moses, “ The Lord, thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed to love the Lord thy God, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live."
Such were the words of the royal Psalmist; “ Create in me a clean beart, and renew a right spirit within me.” Of a
similar import were the divine promises, communicated by the mouth of the prophets; “I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They shall return unto me with all their heart. This is the covenant, that I will make with the house of Israel. After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts."
All, that we have as yet attempted to prove, you will obe serve, is, that regeneration implies a moral change. The subject in general is reserved for further discussion.
It having been already shown, that the change implied in regeneration, is of a moral nature, we are interested to ascertain who they are, for whom it is necessary.
I. That heathen were of this number, will probably be conceded without reluctance. Concerning the moral state of the pagan world in general, when christianity was intro duced, there can be but one opinion. The same testiinong is given by historians, poets, and the inspired writers. The Gentiles were not indeed without religion ; but theirs was such a religion, as imposed little or no restraint on the passions and vices of men ; nor could it be otherwise, considering the character of those beings, whom they worshipped as God;-beings, by whose quarrels the heavens were perpetually disturbed, and by whose impunities the earth was polluted.
To describe pagan profligacy in the words of their own satirists, would be highly indecorous. We will use the less offensive language of St. Paul. “As they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, he gave them up to a reprobate mind, to do those things, which were not convenient: being filled with all unrighteousnes, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness : full of murder, debate, deceit, malignity; back biters, haters of God, despiteful,