« AnteriorContinua »
sees, that, being already the sons of Abraham, they needed nothing further to qualify them for the approaching kingdom, drew from John the Baptist his memorable declaration of the inefficiency of that filiation on which they relied; so a like suggestion, on the part of Nicodemus, seems to have drawn from our Lord, not a mere negation of the supposed efficacy of their natural birth, but an assertion of what was really essential to their admission to the kingdom. For the attainment of that blessing, our Saviour tells Nicodemus, that their natural birth, by descent from Abraham, was insufficient; because, unless born again, they could not see the kingdom of God.
At this assertion Nicodemus was not a little surprised; and expresses his astonishment in a manner, which leads our Lord to repeat and illustrate what he had before
in preference to that in the margin of our Bibles, because it more immediately connects itself with Nicodemus's difficulty as to a man's being born again from his mother's womb. For though, to be born from above, in one already enjoying life, would carry with it the general idea of a second birth, yet it does not appear how it would imply a second birth from the womb.
said, of the necessity of a new, or second birth.
And here I cannot but observe, that the method frequently resorted to, to account for Nicodemus's dulness of apprehension with respect to these words of our Saviour, appears to me to be wholly inadequate. It is very commonly assumed, that it was not the idea of the new birth itself, but of the necessity of that new birth to the Israelites, to those who were already of the family of God, that alone staggered him. But though I doubt not, and have indeed presumed upon the existence of this feeling in the mind of Nicodemus, as leading to the first declaration of our Lord, I can discover nothing of it in the subsequent narrative. His difficulty, with respect to that declaration, seems plainly to have been in the thing itself. He either had no notion, or at the time he did not advert to it, of any figurative meaning of our Saviour's words; and therefore puzzled himself with the idea of a man's literally entering for a second time into his mother's womb, in order to be born again. And our Lord's reply seems to be
entirely directed to the removal of this obstacle; namely, his truly Jewish blindness in following the letter of the word. Nicodemus neither suggests that he well understood the necessity of a new birth to some, but had hitherto considered it as unnecessary to the descendants of Abraham ; nor does our Saviour's illustration of his previous assertion tend to set him right upon this his imagined error.
Whatever other difficulties might press upon the mind of the ruler of the Jews, in the reception of our Lord's implied doctrine, the one directly intimated by his words, and that which the reply of our Saviour is calculated to meet, is the difficulty of the thing itself. Thus in answer to the objection of Nicodemus, intimated in his question, How can a man be born when he is old ? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb and be borno? our Saviour replies, by informing him, that no such thing was intended, but a new birth of water and of the Spirit; Except, says he, a man be born of water, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God P.
o John iii. 4.
But by this apparently slight change of the wording of his original proposition, a new and important light was in fact thrown upon his meaning; and the mind of Nicodemus was carried back to that new birth, which the proselytes from Gentilism were supposed to receive, in the customary rite of washing in water, to which previously to circumcision such persons were subjected.
And had the acknowledgment of the necessity of such a second birth, been all that was required of the Jewish teacher, no fur. ther difficulty would probably have remained ; his fancy of the exclusive preference to be given to his nation in the new kingdom, or of their natural rights, as the children of the faithful, had been refuted by the declaration, that no one, no, not even of the seed of Abraham, could see that kingdom, except he were born again. His gross blunder, as to the literal meaning of the second birth, would seemingly have been ob
P John iii. 5.
viated by our Lord's subsequent apparent reference to that figurative use of the expression, of which he could not have been altogether ignorant. But this reference itself was clogged with a circumstance, which still held Nicodemus in suspense. Not a birth of water only, but a birth of the Spirit was required, and here was a new difficulty. Had our Lord contented himself with asserting the necessity of being born of water only, he would indeed have sufficiently rectified the error of Nicodemus in his literal interpretation of his former words, and have put him in the right road to their truer sense. But he would then still have left him, with such a view of the Christian new birth, as, interpreted with Jewish feelings, would probably have led him no further than to conclude, that some formal rite of external washing was to be the mode of initiation into the kingdom of the Messiah. But by the addition of a new birth of the Spirit also, the mind of Nicodemus was directed, though, from what follows, it would appear, at the time ineffectually, not to the traditionary customs and