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their importance is so fitted to excite;—all such will be disposed to assent to the declaration; "Never man spake like this man." "His word is with power;" for "he knew what was in man." He appeals to the conscience in a brief, yet impressive, manner. He displays the attribute of Omniscience, "which understands long before the thoughts" of the heart; manifests an acquaintance with the intentions of his hearers ; and answers the doubt, objection, and cavil, when "scarce struggling into birth," or, at least, not yet clothed in words. The questions upon which he decides, without hesitation, embarrassment, or ambiguity, are such as calm the fears, remove the doubts, and answer the inquiries, which have in all ages exercised the sagacity of our fellow men. He opens to us the door of hope, points out the objects of faith, and describes the pathway of obedience. He speaks as befits one who "has the words of eternal life;" with that solemnity, which challenges our attention; with that authority, which evidences not the presumptuous confidence of the conceited sciolist, but the deep and abiding conviction of him, who "speaks of what he has known, and who testifies what he had seen." And as he declares to us the awful alternative of either believing in him, or of dying in our sins; so he also directs our attention to those several facts, considerations, and inquiries, by which we
may be assured that he "came forth from God;" and that "no one cometh to the Father, but by him, as the appointed way, the truth, and the life."
We proposed to consider our Lord's discourses with more especial reference to the last mentioned topic; having previously noticed such as inform us respecting the claims which he advanced.Now the earliest statements of our Lord respecting his mission and character and office, are both important in themselves, and also furnish a key for the right understanding of his subsequent discourses. To several of these, therefore, we shall direct your attention; all of them such as were delivered previously to any of those reasonings respecting the evidences of his mission, upon. which he entered at a more advanced period of his ministry. Such is the conference with Nicodemus; and that with the Samaritan woman, and some of her countrymen. Such also is the account given by the first three Evangelists of the general tenor of our Lord's teaching in Galilee; and, more especially, the account given by St. Luke of his discourse in the synagogue of Nazareth. Such also is the opening portion of the discourse recorded in St. John's fifth chapter, which may, in some measure, be considered a continuation of the discourse with Nicodemus. A cursory review of these several discourses of our Lord, will form the first general division of
our Lectures; and will introduce us to the consideration of the second portion of the last mentioned discourse, which contains our Lord's first appeal to the evidences in confirmation of his claims.
The remainder of our time on this day will be occupied by the consideration of our Lord's conference with Nicodemus, which took place at an early period of his ministry. And it will be expedient, in order to the better illustration of our Lord's remarks on that occasion, first to take some notice of the circumstances recorded by St. John in his two first chapters, and of the particular observations with which he introduces his narrative of this conference.
Very shortly after his first miracle at Cana in Galilee, Jesus went up to the passover at Jerusalem. He then, for the first time, shewed his zeal against the profanation of his Father's house, by the removal of the traders, and their merchandize, from the outer court of the temple. For the full proof of his "authority to do these things," he referred to the future sign of his resurrection from the dead: declaring, figuratively indeed, but in a manner which the event proved to be distinctly and accurately prophetic, that when they should “ destroy the temple of his body, he would raise it up in three days." Even his disciples, who had already believed on him,
did not understand this "till after he was risen from the dead." But in consequence of the testimony of John the Baptist, of the more than human knowledge displayed by Jesus, and of the manifestation of his glory by the miracle at Cana, they had already received sensible, intelligible, and sufficient evidence, to justify a belief in his prophetic character; even though they did not at first understand the purport of all that he said, and the reason of all that he did. And, at this passover, Jesus exhibited, and, as it should seem, very publicly, similar proofs of his divine commission. Although we are not told the particulars respecting them, we are fully apprized of their effects upon those who were present. "When he was in Jerusalem, at the passover, in the feastday, many believed on his name, when they saw the miracles which he did." And afterwards, "when he was come into Galilee, the Galileans received him, having seen all the things that he did at Jerusalem at the feast"." But Jesus, "knowing all men, and not needing that any should testify of man, because he knew what was in man"," was well aware beforehand, as the event has fully shewn to us, that much fuller evidence would be necessary so to convince them of his heavenly mission, as to dispose them finally
a John ii. 23. iv. 45.
b John ii. 24, 25.
to receive him in all his offices, and not to be offended in him, because of what he came to do, and to teach. To such he "did not commit," or trust, "himself," by a premature declaration of his office and purposes. But this general rule was not without exception; as the case of Nicodemus, and of the Samaritans, will shew. To them he made a more explicit declaration of himself than for some time he did to others, even than he made to the twelve disciples. And the reason of this certainly was, that the rule, which prudence, guided by a divine knowledge, led him generally to adopt, did not apply to them. He acted, in each of these cases, according to his accurate knowledge of what was proper and expedient. This observation, premised in fact by the Evangelist himself before he relates these incidents, should be attentively borne in mind in the consideration of both of them; and we trust that the distinction between these two cases, compared with each other, and also with the general conduct of our Lord during his ministry, will appear from what we offer in this, and a subsequent, discourse. This observation of the Evangelist, is indeed one of great importance; for it explains the principle upon which Jesus acted throughout his ministry. And as an important rule for the interpretation of the Gospels is suggested by it, we must not lose sight of it while we endeavour to ascertain,