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"invisible influence, only known by its effects, "and by the fruits which it generates."
The surprise of Nicodemus was now no longer feigned or peevish. That the privileges of the blood of Abraham should be accounted for nothing; and that the revelation of God's will should spread, like the wind, from one corner of heaven to the other,—these, to a Pharisee, were, indeed, unexpected truths: and he replies in wonder, "How can these things be?" Yet, in truth, these very circumstances were all foretold by the prophets, as proofs of the Messiah's coming; it was foretold, that the gathering of the Gentiles should be to Him; it was foretold, that His coming was, like a refiner's fire, to renew the hearts of His people; and the ignorance, which Nicodemus displayed, as to these signs of the times, is a satisfactory proof how much the Pharisees had left off the study of the Scripturesfor the vanity of traditions, and for the useless scruples of outward forms of devotion or reverence. They pored over the commentaries of the scribes, till they forgot Isaiah and Moses: they washed their cups, and strained out their gnats, and made broad their phylacteries, till the real glories, of which their ceremonies were but the shadows, were hidden altogether from their eyes. Well, then, might Christ exclaim against Nicodemus:-"Art thou a master in Israel, and art not
yet familiar with the prophets? Much, indeed, "hast thou to learn, and to unlearn, before thou
"canst be My disciple; and far art thou, [to whom "the outward signs of Christ's coming are thus
new and strange, ] from being able yet to under"stand the mysteries of the kingdom of God." He then goes on to declare His own divinity; and to complain of the slowness of men's hearts-to receive that which was revealed to them, by Him, to whom all things were known. "We speak "that which we do know; and testify that we "have seen; and ye receive not our witness. 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 into heaven but He, that came down from "heaven, even the Son of Man, which is in "heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in "the wilderness; even so must the Son of Man "be lifted up: that whosoever believeth on Him "should not perish, but have eternal life.”
There are in this passage many circumstances worthy of remark, and of a nature highly applicable, not only to the general faith of a Christian, but to that particular mystery which we are assembled this day to celebrate. First, it is plain, that the reasons, for which our Saviour claims to be believed, in what He asserts, both as to things earthly, and as to things heavenly, is that He hath seen them; that He speaks from His personal knowledge. "We testify that, which we have seen." And though a mere human prophet
might have revelations of what passes in Heaven, or among the departed souls in Paradise, yet no such prophet could add what follows: "And no man hath ascended into Heaven, but He that came down from Heaven." He here claims to Himself, not only that Heaven had been opened to Him; as it was afterwards opened to St. Paul : but that it was His native country; that He was no passing guest there; but that He originally came down from Heaven; that Heaven was His throne, and the place of His abode. The Son of Man must therefore be more than man. But what follows? "The Son of Man who is in Heaven." WHO IS IN HEAVEN. When did our Lord say this, and to whom? Was He not then present with Nicodemus, in his chamber at Jerusalem? How then could He say, that He, the Son of Man, was, at that very time in Heaven, unless He claimed to Himself that privilege of Godhead, by which the Second Person of the glorious Trinity is, in Heaven, and in earth, and every where, at the same moment; and while the earthly body, which His Spirit animated, was conversing with the sons of men, His boundless Deity filled all space, beheld all things, sustained all things, directed all things?
And to take away all pretence, that He was here speaking of any but Himself, He goes on to say, that the same Son of Man, who was at that moment in Heaven, was He, who should soon be lifted up in the wilderness, to the end, that
whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.
In this discourse, then, of our Lord, He declares, sufficiently to satisfy even the most unwilling hearer, that He existed before His descent on earth; that He existed in Heaven; that His existence filled both Heaven and earth at the same moment; that His crucifixion was a sacrifice for sin, which should purchase life and forgiveness, to all who believe in Him. But there are some practical, as well as doctrinal, truths, which I wish to teach you from the story of Nicodemus; of which the first is, that when we see this wise and powerful, and on the whole, perhaps, well-meaning man, rejected as a convert by Christ, because he did not dare to own his faith publickly; and because he thought himself too pure to need baptism and repentance; we may learn, that God will not admit of such a service as, in fear of the world, shrinks from the name of a Christian; or which comes to Him. with a reliance on its own merits or purity: that Christ will, in Heaven, and before His angels, be ashamed of them who are ashamed of Him on earth; and that they, who seek salvation, must seek it by open repentance, and in the character of humbled sinners.
Next, it may be observed, that the best way to endeavour after increase of grace, and clearer views of God's plans and providence, than we now possess, is to make the best use in our
power of our present lights. We are to receive with lowliness what we already know; and to submit ourselves to earthly truths, before we can hope for a knowledge of heavenly. And, lastly, we may learn from this example, the advantage of yielding to our first impressions of piety; and of doing that at once, which our reason tells us must be done before we die. Nicodemus, so long as our Saviour lived, had not sufficient courage to join His disciples; and, when he had seen the fulfilment of His last prophecy, and beheld the Son of Man lifted up like the serpent of Moses; this proof of His divinity overcomes his doubts; and we behold Him coming boldly forward to celebrate His burial with a late, though sincere repentance. How much must he have then lamented his own slackness! how much must have hated himself for that cowardice, which was ashamed of the Messiah, while he might have gazed on His countenance, and listened to His words;-how greatly must he have feared lest his day of grace was gone by for ever! Oh may we, while God is yet present with us, and before the night cometh, when no man can work, make haste to acknowledge the Son of God, for our Lord and King; lest "His wrath be kindled,” and we perish!
To Him, who liveth, and reigneth with the Father, and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever, be all praise, and glory, Amen.