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reasoning mind of man, seduced perhaps by the artifice of the enemy of souls, usually goes beyond the simple specification of a doctrine to speculate concerning the manner and the cause; and if these form no part of the revelation, the speculatist is induced, in default of this support, to work up a theory, weak, inconclusive, and liable to the well-founded objections of an adverse theorist, whose system in its turn is not less vulnerable. Surely these circumstances should teach us a lesson of diffidence in our own powers; and lead us to rest contented with whatever is necessary for us to know as revealed in the Bible, though there should not be added such minute explanations as would fully satisfy all the inquiries of a curious mind.
I think I read the Scriptures to the greatest advantage, when in any difficult passage I neither conceal from myself its difficulty, nor attempt to bend it to my own general view of the analogy of faith, or to form a new hypothesis to make a system apparently consistent in all its parts; but consider with myself whether, notwithstanding the general obscurity of the passage, there is not some clear and serviceable truth to be gained from it. I would take as an illustration of my meaning the eleventh chapter of the Romans; respecting which a Calvinist and an Arminian might argue, as many have done, till their temper and their Christian affection were forgotten in the contest. In the mode I propose, while I pretend not to avoid every difficulty, I gain much useful information from what is obvious. Ilearn the importance of faith, from ver. 20; the necessity of caution from ver. 21; the great hope to be enter tained by the Gentiles from the restoration of the Jews, in ver. 12; and though I may not be able to fathom ver. 32, which is, as it were, the summary of the Apostle's meaning, ("For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have
mercy on all,") yet I may obtain from it a delightful view of the character of God. How should my heart be filled with love towards him while I receive in simple faith this consolatory declaration! However obscure his dispensations may appear to my feeble reason, however difficult I may find it to reconcile the account given of them in his word, yet one point I can and do understand, that they are so ordered that God "might have mercy upon all." And by the reception of this truth in faith, I shall find my heart well prepared to unite in the devout adoration of the Apostle in the concluding verses.
I have purposely mentioned a part of Scripture which has preeminently given rise to speculations, to reasonings, and of course to controversy. In arguing on such passages, each party says, and often truly, though there may not always be sufficient candour in the opponent to allow it-“ It is not the declaration of Scripture that I oppose, but your explanation of it, and the consequences you draw from it." In the midst of the disputed passages in the ninth and two following chapters of the Epistle to the Romans, stands a verse fraught with the utmost consolation to the sincere inquirer, and one to which I have turned, and found that rest I sought for in vain in the endeavour clearly to understand the more difficult passages: "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." What I need is salvation: mere knowledge, and in short every thing else besides this, is comparatively of no importance. I am informed in these few words how I may obtain that salvation. My conscience will tell me whether I call upon the name of the Lord; and if its report be favourable, faith in this name will bring the peace attendant on justification, and Christ be formed in my soul the hope of glory.
There are truths in Scripture,
which I think we may compare to the antagonist muscles of the human body; which being necessary to give due motion to the limbs, the power and energy of the whole are weakened, if any one be strengthened at the expense of another. The sacred writers, fearless of seeming contradiction, occasionally even bring these truths together in one view. Thus, in the well-known passage, Phil. ii. 12, 13; "Work out your own salvation; for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure;" and so again, 2 Pet. i. 10, "Give diligence to make your calling and election sure."
The late Mr. Cecil justly observed; "Some men get hold of an opinion, and push it so far that it meets and contradicts other opinions fairly deducible from Scripture." In order to avoid this error, it would be well to attend to an important suggestion of Mr. Venn: "To guard against dangerous perversions, it may be laid down as a maxim in divinity, That it is necessary not only to hold the doctrines of the Bible, but also to view those doctrines in the same light in which the inspired writers viewed them, and to make only the same inferences from them which they did. For there is scarcely any truth which may not be held in a partial manner, or seen through a distorting medium; so that we then only believe as the Apostles did, when we receive their tenets in the same full comprehensive manner in which they delivered them, dwell upon them in the same proportion to other truths, and draw the same conclusions from them."-Simple faith in the word of God, as we find it, and as far as we understand it, would, I apprehend, lead to such a just view of the Bible as Mr. Venu recommends. It would also bring peace to the soul; it would tend to allay controversial disputes; and, like the study of nature from nature herself, would lead to far
clearer discoveries of truth in the revealed word of God, than all the boasted systems of mere theologians have e ver been able to effect. S. H.
To the Editor of the Christian Observer. THE Common interpretation of our Lord's words (John iii. 5), "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God," appearing to me both incorrect and liable to misconception (witness the late controversy on baptism), I am induced to offer a somewhat different view of the passage, which I would convey in the following observations upon part of our Lord's discourse with Nicodemus.
It appears to me evident, that it was not the Saviour's design at the commencement of his ministry ex-. plicitly to declare himself to be the Messiah; but that He appeared as a Divine messenger, to whose preaching and doctrine the people were authoritatively called upon to attend. "The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand,-Repent ye, and believe the Gospel,"-exhibit the substance and manner of the Saviour's preaching.
The circumstances of his birth, and that of his precursor John the Baptist, in addition to the visit of the wise men, and the notoriety given to all these events by the slaughter of the infants at Bethlehem, probably led a large proportion of the nation at first to believe that the Messiah was born about that time; but so many years having elapsed without his making a public appearance, it is probable that they had at length come to the conclusion that the person then born was not the Messiah; and the event, it is possible, especially considering the malignant perturbations and awful visitations of the times, was almost entirely forgotten. But when Jesus appeared, preaching and working miracles, inquiry concerning him would of
course take place; and the learned and leading men of the nation must consequently have been fully informed of all the circumstances which had agitated the nation at the time of his birth, and must have been convinced that he was the individual then born, though the wise men not having returned to Herod left it uncertain where he was born so that, in fact, he was shortly afterwards almost universally considered to be a native of Nazareth; aud this, together with the circumstances of his appearance and preaching, seemed to render it improbable that he was actually the Messiah. It is evident, I think, from many passages, that there was much uncertainty in the general opinion as to the manner in which the Messiah was to be introduced, and the person or persons by whom he was to be preceded. It is clear that our Lord treated it as a high attainment even in St. Peter, a considerable time after this period, that he was fully assured that Jesus was the Christ of God. The Jewish rulers must, however, have been at least convinced that he was an extraordinary messenger from Jehovah, and, considering the time, that he was in some way connected with "the kingdom of God," and they could the less doubt of the reality of his mission, and the greatness of his character, from the testimony given to both by the Baptist. It was nothing then but the spiritual and humbling nature of his doctrine-bis preaching the Gospel and opening the kingdom of heaven to the poor,
• John, I presume, spake concerning the Saviour under a Divine inspiration, something like that of the old prophets-not enlightened perhaps himself as to the full meaning of the predictions respecting Christ; for it is hardly to be supposed that he had attained to such a complete knowledge
of the sacrifice and atonement, as our Lord's most intimate disciples did not acquire till after the descent of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost.
the meek, and the lowly-that kept them from coming to him. The spiritual hopes which his preaching and doctrine were calculated to excite, were directly opposite to their proud, revengeful, and secular expectations: they determined, therefore, not to come to him (ver. 20.) But in the case of Nicodemus, though he was grossly ignorant of spiritual things, and perhaps had been immersed in all the rabbinical prejudices, yet the principle of malignity, and many of his countrymen's deeply rooted prejudices, appear to have been dethroned; and his heart being brought by the Holy Spirit to an obedient temper*, and feeling a strong desire for an interest in the kingdom of God, and his need of Divine illumination, he ventured to go to Jesus, frankly acknowledging his own and his brethren's conviction, that he was a Divine Teacher, and presenting himself before him for instruction. Under these circumstances, our Lord saw it right, in the most direct and impressive manner, to inform him of the spiritual nature of the kingdom of God: "Verily, verily," &c.: as though he had said, "This kingdom is a new world, which a man cannot perceive till he is born into it. The kingdom of God is not such a kingdom as the Jews have been looking for-a secular kingdom. The kingdom of God cometh not by observation: it must be within you." The abruptness and unexpected nature of our Lord's answer, so utterly at variance with his prejudices, amazed him; but his questions in reply, though indicating gross ignorance, discovered neither coutempt nor disgust. Though confounded, he does not evince any disposition to take offence; and the majesty of our Lord's manner was
no doubt calculated to foster in
him a submissive temper. The wore deeply to impress the mind of
This, I think, the Saviour meant to intimate, for his encouragement, in the 21st verse.
Nicodemus that there was mean ing in what he had said, the Saviour reiterated and enlarged upon his assertion in the most solemn manner: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God... that which is born of the flesh is flesh, &c.:" which led Nicodemus to ask the question, "How can these things be ?" submissively waiting an explanation. And then our Lord says, "Art thou a master in Israel, and knowest not these things?" This appeal to him was, I apprehend, intended to excite his recollection of his own Scriptures, and the character of the servants of God in every age: as though our Lord had said, "Art thou ignorant that all the eminent men of your nation, in whom you glory, were regenerated characters-men inspired of God, and partakers of his holiness? And do you not recollect such passages as Psalm li.; Jer. xxxiii. 8.; Ezek. xi. 19.; Ezek. xxxvi. 25 -29 ?" I conceive our Lord's question to have been especially designed to bring to his recollection these and similar passages of the Old Testament, in which allusion is doubtless made to the ceremonial ablutions of the Jews; and that he used the terms water and spirit, symbolically as they are used in those passages-the Spirit, to express the quickening influence by which men are made partakers of a spiritual life; and the water, to express that purifying and Divine influence by which they are made partakers of God's holiness. In this symbolical way only, as in the 25th and 26th verses of the 36th chapter of Ezekiel, and in many other passages, the terms spirit and water seem to be used for the two great characteristics of a regenerated man-divine life and purity. Doubtless the whole work of regeperation is by the power and grace of the Holy Ghost; but in our Lord's reply to Nicodemus, it must
have been his intention by allusions familiar to Nicodemus, to explain the meaning of what he had said; and therefore he could not assume his knowledge of the personality of the Holy Ghost. The expression, "the spirit," would naturally be understood by a Jew as indicating the Divine energy and source of life; and I conceive this interpretation to be the more necessary, because I apprehend there is no other instance in the whole Scriptures in which a Divine person and a material agent are similarly associated, as they appear upon the supposition that the Holy Ghost is personally intended. The words of the Baptist, "He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire" (Matt. iii. 11), appear similar; but, if the interpretation of this passage which I offered in your volume for 1820 (p. 728) be correct, is not the true one. The common interpretation proceeds up. on the supposition, that the meaning of that passage is, "He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, as with fire," which is untenable without altering the sacred text. But the interpretation offered in the paper I have referred to is not liable to similar objection; and I humbly conceive it receives much strength from a parallel conversation of our Lord's, John vi. 53-63*; a passage in which it is curious to observe, that it has the same aspect with respect to the Lord's Supper, that the other has with regard to baptism: and it seems as far-fetched to suppose that our Lord designed to intimate any thing respecting baptism in the one case, as that he intended to intimate anything respecting the holycommunion in the other. It is observable that both the passages are accompanied by a similarity of remark,
• The allusion in this passage is, I presume, to the paschal lamb; though the drinking of the blood, so contrary to Jewish institutions and habits, ap. pears, I confess, to present a considerable difficulty.
which tends very much to shew an agreement in their character and tendency. To Nicodemus, the Saviour says, "If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things?" And, "No man hath ascended up to heaven, but he which came down from heaven," &c. In the sixth chapter -to a company composed partly of affectionate disciples, partly of persons who, like Nicodemus, were disposed to receive explanation and instruction, but partly and principally of temporary followers, inclined to cavil and to find excuses for finally withdrawing from him-he says, "Doth this offend you? What and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where he was before ?" And then he adds, what I conceive perfectly explains his meaning in both cases; "It is the Spirit that quickeneth the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life." Here, I apprehend, Scripture is its own interpreter, and that a careful comparison of the two passages, and of the texts referred to, "comparing spiritual things with spiritual," will make the meaning sufficiently obvious.
After our Lord had, in an abrupt but appropriate and most impressive manner, fixed in the mind of Nicodemus the idea of spiritual regeneration, he advanced to an exhibition of the glorious and characteristic doctrines and mysteries of the kingdom of God, knowing him now to be prepared to reverence his words, and to meditate with profit upon his amazing declarations; and it is highly probable, from the subsequent conduct of Nicodemus, that he became a humble and intelligent believer; and that he was eminent for his faith and affectionate attachment to the Redeemer; though, by the mysterious overruling of Divine Providence, and for unknown but certainly wise purposes, he was permitted to
continue in a station from which his attachment to the rejected Messiah we might have supposed would necessarily have caused him to be expelled.
When the holy writers and speakers of the New Testament make use of the term baptism, they have frequently, I conceive, a more particular reference to the thing signified, than to the outward and visible sign. Surely if it be true of circumcision, it is not less true of baptism, that it is that of the heart, in the Spirit, and not in the letter. "Baptism doth save us, not the putting away of the filth of the flesh," the external observance, but the spiritual baptism of the mind and heart, " the answer of a good conscience towards God." (1 John iii. 21, and iv. 17.) That "the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life," is a New Testament maxim which should never be forgotten, and a lively impression of which would be of singular use in many controversies, and not least so in that on the question of baptismal regeneration. In proportion as the nominal church became corrupt and secular, this maxim was lost sight of; and external obser vances were magnified, till at length transubstantiation and the opus operatum became triumphant. The history of many ages will shew how awfully successful have been the labours of the unregenerate professors of Christianity, in rendering it a plastic secular concern, subservient to the purposes of human depravity.
I offer the above remarks with humility and deference. If the thoughts are original and just, they may be of some value: if otherwise, I shall be glad to receive, and will candidly weigh, the objections of your biblical correspondents.
To prevent any misapprehension of my meaning, I would add, in conclusion, that the doctrine of the Trinity in Unity, and the Unity in Trinity, seems to me to have been, without doubt, the faith of the an