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JOHN III. 3.
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot fee the kingdom of God.
No paffage perhaps in the facred writings
hath produced a greater diverfity of
opinions, than this uttered by our Bleffed Saviour. It hath given rife to an infinity of interpretations, too many of them correfponding to the pre-conceived, opinions of men, without ever confidering to whom, and on what occafion, the words were addreffed. The Evangelist describes the perfon in a very circumstantial manner by his name, profeffion, office, and descent; Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a Ruler, and a Jew. He had heard our Lord's miracles often talked of in Judea; perhaps he had feen fome of them; and could he have reconciled the meannefs of His appearance with the grandeur of His works, he would have concluded Him to be the Meffiah. De
firous, therefore, of obtaining information. whereby to direct his judgment, he applied in perfon to Jefus. Rabbi," he introduces himself, "we know that thou art a teacher "come from God, for no man can do these "miracles that thou doeft, except God be with "him." To which our Saviour anfwers,
Verily, verily, I fay unto thee, except a man "be born again, he cannot fee the kingdom of "God." The miracles that I do, prove my miffion that I am fent from God: but I do greater miracles than any thou haft feen or heard of. Thou mayft have heard that I can reftore fight to the blind, that I can give life to thofe that are dead. But I am come into the world to give eyes to those that already fec, and a new life to thofe that already live: I am come to cause thofe that are already born, to be born again—a miracle that must be wrought in all who embrace my Religion-for my Gospel, which is the kingdom of God" here below, requires fuch a change of heart, in both Jew and Gentile, that it may, with ftrict propriety, be termed a new birth!" And to fhew both the importance of the doctrine, and the certainty of its truth, He confirms it by a
double affeveration, "Verily, verily, I fay unto "thee, except a man be born again, he cannot "fee the kingdom of God."
Let me premife that, by the kingdom of God, in the text, we are not to understand the happinefs of Heaven, but the ftate of the Gof pel on earth: and the Gofpel is given to us, that, by the observance of its precepts, we may become the children of God.
But as many people unfortunately have been taught to confider the expreffion, "the kingdom of God," in a different fenfe, as relating to the happiness of heaven; I will produce fome parallel paffages, which may convince you, that the kingdom of God can only mean the state of the Gospel on earth.
The kingdom of God," fays our Saviour, "is come unto you." How? He was fpeaking in the land of Judea. But if you underftand the kingdom of God, to mean the happinefs of Heaven, our Saviour would have faid that the kingdom of Judea is the happiness of Heaven, which is too ridiculous to fuppofc.
Again," a rich man fhall hardly enter into
*This paffage is beautifully illuftrated by the Bishop of London, in his admirable" Lectures on St. Matthew."
"the kingdom of Heaven." Why? "God " is no refpecter of perfons." All the riches that are poffeffed, were given, and the enjoyment of them permitted, by God. And will the Judge of the World confign his creatures to everlasting mifery, because they were in poffeffion of what he himself
gave, and gave too as a diftinguished bleffing? We are all the children of his hand, and equally partake his love. What, then, is the meaning of the expreffion? The Gospel requires humility, lowlinefs of mind, the preferring of others to ourfelves; virtues to which, riches, God knows, do not much difpofe us: there is danger, therefore, left riches fhould counteract the effect of the Gofpel.
"Verily I fay unto you, that the publicans "and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.' As though he had faid, ye carry the appearance of piety in your abftain from things innocent; ye make long prayers; notwithstanding which, so much are fo ye fet upon promoting your own interest, that the publicans and the harlots, who make no profeffion of religion, would not disgrace the Gofpel, the kingdom of God, fo much as you.
Having fhewn, from thefe expreffions, that the kingdom of Heaven does not mean a future ftate of blifs, but the ftate of the Gofpel on earth; I will beg your attention, whilft I attempt to fhew the propriety of our Saviour's mode of speaking to Nicodemus, “ Verily, verily, I fay unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot fee the kingdom of "God."
When the Jews received a profelyte to their religion, he was required to forfake his father and mother, and all his connections, and to affociate only with the people, whofe religion he had embraced. He was then faid, from his having renounced idolatry, and be come a worshipper of the God of Abraham, to be newly born, or born again; for among the Jews, they alone, who, by birth, had the privilege of worshipping God, were conceived to live; and they, who were profelyted to fuch worship, were faid to be born into a new state of existence. Our Lord, therefore, alluding to thefe opinions, affures Nicodemus that, if he would embrace Chriftianity, he, like the profelytes to the Jewish faith, must be born again. The ruler of the Synagogue was fo