« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
words contained an allusion to the practice of waterbaptism. It has been already remarked, that the doctrine on which he thus insisted, in a spiritual sense, and respecting which the ignorance of Nicodemus, that master in Israel, was adverted to in so pointed a manner, was one which, in its merely external bearings, was perfectly familiar to the Jews. The proselyte, who had forsaken heathenism, and adopted the Jewish religion, was considered as one new-born; and of this new birth his baptism in water appears to have been the appointed sign. The new birth of the true Christian—that indispensable preparation for his entrance into the kingdom—is therefore fitly illustrated by the circumstances of the baptized proselyte. But, though it is sufficiently evident that our Lord alluded, in this passage, to the Jewish rite of baptism on conversion, it appears to be equally clear that he made that allusion in a merely figurative and spiritual sense. Those who would prove, that to “be born of water” in this
passage literally signifies to be outwardly baptized, defeat their own purposes by proving too much. If the possibility of an entrance into the kingdom of heaven, which a multitude of moral sins does not preclude, is precluded by the infraction of a merely positive precept, and by the omission of a rite, in itself absolutely indifferent, it may almost be asserted that the system of Christianity is overturned, and that the Gospel falls to the ground. To impose on an obscure and ambiguous expression a sense which thus contradicts so many general declarations made by the sacred writers, and which is directly opposed to the fundamental doctrines of the New Testament, is obviously very inconsistent with the laws of a just and comprehensive criticism. Nothing, one would think, but absolute necessity, would compel any reasonable critic to the adoption of such an alternative.
But, in point of fact, the expressions thus employed by Jesus are capable of being otherwise interpreted with the greatest propriety. Numerous passages might be adduced, from both the Old and New Testaments, in which the carnal washings or baptisms of the Jews are alluded to in a merely spiritual sense, and in which, more particularly, we find the grace of the Spirit—that sacred influence given to men for their conversion and sanctification described under the obvious figure of “water;" see Ps. li, 2. 7; Isa. i, 16; Jer. iv, 14; Ezek. xxxvi, 25; John iv, 10; vii, 38; I Cor. vi, 11; Eph. v, 26. According, therefore, to this known scriptural phraseology, “to be born of water” may be properly understood as signifying to be converted, cleansed, and introduced to a newness of life, by the Spirit of God. Such is the interpretation of these words, which is adopted not only by Friends, but by various pious writers and commentators on Scripture, who have no connexion with that Society; see Soott, A. Clarke, Gill, fc. This interpretation is by no means precluded by the addition-." and of the Spirit; for our Lord's words may here be understood, not as relating to two things, but as representing one thing, first by means of a figure, and afterwards without that figure. Such a mode of expression is not unusual in the sacred writings. Just in the same manner the apostle Paul describes his own converts, first as “washed" and immediately afterwards as "sanctified” by the Spirit of God, I Cor. vi, 11; and when John the Baptist declared that Jesus, who was coming after him, should " baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire,” he probably employed both those terms to represent one internal and purifying influence.
That spiritual interpretation of our Lord's expressions which, on critical principles, is thus plainly admissible, is moreover confirmed by the immediate context.
Jesus says to Nicodemus, (according to the common English version) " Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God;" and again he says,
Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” It is, I think, obvious that the latter of these sayings is nothing more than an explanatory repetition of the former, and that, in point of meaning, they are to be regarded as equivalent. Now, it appears, from the comparison of the other passages in the writings of this apostle, in which the same adverb is used, that the term rendered born again, although denoting that birth which was in fact a second one, ought rather to be rendered “ born from above;" see chap. iii, 31; xix, 11. 23; comp. Matt. xxvii, 51; Mark xv, 38; James i, 17; üži, 15. 17. So Schleusner in lex. It follows, therefore, that to be “born from above” and “ "to be born of water and the Spirit" are expressions which have the same meaning. But “to be born from above" can surely signify nothing less than to undergo that true regeneration—that real change of heart, which is indeed" from above,” because it is effected only by the Spirit and power of the Almighty. Again, after speaking of this heavenly birth" of water and the spirit,” our Lord immediately drops his figurative allusion to baptism, and contrasts the moral change, of which alone he is speaking, with the birth of the flesh, “That which is born of the flesh, is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit, is spirit;" ver. 6.
When the apostle Paul described the Corinthian Christians as persons who were "washed," "sanctified," and "justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of God," I Cor. vi, 11; and when, on an: other occasion, he made mention of the whole church as sanctified and cleansed with the washing of water by the word,” Eph. v, 26; he probably derived his
figurative language from the well-known rite of baptism in water; and yet the impartial critick will scarcely deny that the doctrine which he couched under that language related solely to the operations of divine grace.
But there is, in the writings of this apostle, another passage, which, while it plainly illustrates our Lord's doctrine respecting a birth" of water and of the Spirit,” affords additional information on the subject of true Christian baptism. “For we ourselves also,” says the apostle to Titus,“ were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But, after that, the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his
mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which he shed on us abundantly, through Jesus Christ our Saviour;" Tit. iii, 3-6. Here, as in John iii, 3–5, there is a very obvious allusion to that outward rite of baptism on conversion, which was understood among both Jews and Christians to be the sign of regeneration or of the second birth: and yet, where is the enlightened Christian who will refuse to allow that, under these figurative expressions, the apostle is promulgating a doctrine entirely spiritual? The " washing of regeneration” which is here distinguished from all our own works of righteousnes, attributed solely to the merciful interposition of God our Saviour, and described as a divine operation, efficacious for the salvation of souls, can surely be nothing else than the baptism of the Spirit, or, to adopt the apostle's own words of added explanation, -" the renewing of the Holy Ghost."
Another passage, of no very dissimilar import, is found in the epistle to the Hebrews; an epistle which
I deem to be rightly attributed to the same inspired author. “Having, therefore, boldness," says the apo
“ to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an High Priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water;" chap. x, 19
-22. The“ pure water” mentioned in this passage is explained by some criticks as signifying the water of an outward baptism; but a little examination may serve to convince the candid inquirer that such an interpretation is inconsistent with the whole scope of the apostle's argument. Every one who attentively peruses the ninth and tenth chapters of this admirable epistle, will observe that Paul is there unfolding the great principles or doctrines of the Christian dispensation, as they were prefigured by the circumstances of the Jewish ceremonial law. The ritual appointed to be observed on the great day of atonement, as described in Levit. xvi, is that part of the Jewish institution to which he is particularly adverting. On that day, the High Priest was accustomed to enter into the Holy of Holies, or inner sanctuary of the temple, after a careful washing or bathing of his own body. After this purification he offered up a bullock and a goat, as an atonement for sin, and sprinkled the blood of the victims on the mercy-seat and on the altar. These and similar ceremonies (among which he particularly mentions “ divers baptisms”) are treated on by the apostle as denoting the spiritual realities of the New Covenant; and when he proceeds to describe those realities, it is from the ordinance of Judaism that he borrows his figures. As the mercy-seat and the altar, on the great day of atonement, and the people them