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"Built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself
being the chief corner-stone."
SKETCHES OF CHARACTER AT THE CROSS OF CHRIST.
BY THE REV. JAMES MURSELL. No. III.-JOSEPH AND NICODEMUS; OR, SECRET DISCIPLES REVEALED
BY THE CROSS OF CHRIST.
John xix. 38, 39. THERE is a striking similarity between these two men, in regard both to their social position and their attitude towards Jesus and His claims. Both were members of the Sanhedrim, standing high, as it would seem, in the esteem of their colleagues. Joseph was “an honourable counsellor ;" Nicodemus“ a master of Israel," "a ruler of the Jews.” Of the former, we are expressly told that he was “a good man and a just;" and the conduct of the latter would suggest the same conclusion respecting him. Both evidently cherished expectations concerning the Messiah more earnest and spiritual than those of their countrymen in general; they “ waited for the Kingdom of God.” How and where Joseph was introduced to our Lord, so as to receive impression from His works, His words, and His life, we are not informed; we only know that he was “a disciple of Jesus,” recognising the Prophet of Nazareth as “ Him of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write.” We are enabled more clearly to trace the course by which Nicodemus was led to the same belief in Jesus as the Messiah. Struck by the miracles and the teaching of our Lord, he repaired to Him by night, to seek further instruction from His lips. If the choice of such å season for his visit betrayed something of selfish timidity on the part of the “master of Israel,” it evinced nobler qualities as well. Nicodemus, we may be well assured, was not alone among the rulers of the Jews in the conviction he expressed, “ We know that Thou art a teacher come from God;" but he was alone in the candour and earnest1088 which prompted him to come as an inquirer to the humble Nazarene, and to sacrifice the repose of night that he might learn more from the Prophet who had so mightily stirred his soul. The wondrous Words which Jesus spoke to His visitor that night proved His appreciation of the spirit in which that visitor had come; and doubtless they were the means of deepening and confirming the faith and love which had already begun to turn towards the Saviour. For a time, however, the temptations of their high position, the “fear of the Jews," held back both these men from the avowal of their faith, from public identification with the followers of Jesus. Nicodemus had, indeed, on one occasion offered a faint remonstrance against the unrighteous rancour with which his brother Pharisees were persecuting our Lord; and Joseph had refused his consent to the counsel and deed” by which the crucifixion was brought about. But neither had come out as disciples of Jesus until the occasion which suggests our remarks. Now, just when the shameful death of Christ has crowned the triumph of His foes, confirmed the unbelief of His rejectors, and scared even His own followers into temporary desertion,—these men, hitherto so timid, wax bold, dare to confess their reverent love for Him whom their countrymen have brought to a felon's death, become coadjutors in pay. ing to His wounded body the last rites of piety and affection, and in thus unconsciously fulfilling the ancient oracle, “ He made His grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death.”
Such secret disciples still exist amongst us, and in no inconsiderable numbers. There are many who are in heart the followers of Christ, who yet, for one reason or another refrain from union with the Church, are not enrolled upon our lists of members, nor found with their brethren and sisters at the feast which commemorates the Saviour's death. And the longer we live the more disposed do we become to regard the existence of such a class with thankfulness and hope rather than with regret. Regret indeed there must be; regret that so many who love Christ should withhold their full cooperation from His church in its work and witness for Him, and should deprive themselves of the comfort and the help which comes from Christian fellowship. But deeper than all such sorrow is the joy of feeling that we are not constrained to measure the good resulting from the preaching of the gospel by the numbers, added to the Church; the joy of having the sad conviction that many who by outward profession say to Jesus, “ Lord, Lord,” have never truly given their hearts to Him, relieved by the grateful hope that there are a yet larger number who have never, in the formal sense named the name of Jesus, whom He now owns as His disciples, and shall welcome and proclaim as such at the day of the manifestation a the sons of God. “They are not all Israel who are of Israel.” How ever carefully we may adjust our organizations to the principles of the New Testament, they will, after all, but imperfectly register and re present the distinctions of spiritual character. And the imperfectio has its hopeful and joyful as well as its sorrowful side. Nay, we can not but believe that the hope and joy preponderate over the sorrow.
The instances before us may teach the not unneeded lesson tha the spirit of true discipleship may exist in hearts where we shoul have least suspected its presence. Of all circles of Jewish society th Sanhedrim was the last to which the followers of Jesus would look fo