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his will, and strange to the holiness which belongs to him, but delighting in the will of God, aspiring after holiness, and setting the affections on things above. So that it might be truly affirmed, “ If a man be in Christ Jesus, he is born again : is a new creature.”
Jesus is well aware that this would seem to Nicodemus “ a hard saying," a mysterious doctrine. But he bids him look, not to the difficulty or strangeness of the work, but to the power by which it is to be performed.
17. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: 80 is every one that is born of the Spirit.
This is a singular and instructive comparison. The Spirit is compared to the wind, because both the Spirit and the wind are manifest from what they do, but are not seen in themselves, nor under man's controul. T'he wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it yoeth. There is hardly any thing in nature, over which man has so little power. God holds the winds, as he “ holds the waters, in the hollow of his hand."1 The wind and storm fulfil his word. But man can do nothing to direct, or regulate, or restrain it. The wind bloweth where it listeth. And such, says our Lord, is the case with the Spirit. It is beyond our power, or reach, or controul. Those who are born of the Spirit, are “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” We cannot command the Spirit, and say, Come, and he cometh. The parent cannot secure the Spirit for his child, nor the child for his parent. The minister cannot engage that the Spirit shall influence the hearts of his people. Neither can the people secure that the Spirit may rest upon their minister, that he may “ open his mouth boldly,” or “ rightly divide the word of truth.” They can pray with hope, nay with confidence : but still there may be some reason, some hindrance known to God, and sufficient in his sight, why the gift should be withheld. They are constantly reminded, that the Spirit is not theirs to give.
| Job ix
At the same time we must be far from supposing, because the Spirit bloweth w here it listeth, that there are not sure and regular causes for its breathing on one and not on another. Though we cannot determine or divert the course of the wind, nothing in nature is under more regular command. The stars are not more exactly governed, though the stars rise at a known and certain time, and the changes of the wind are to us uncertain. There is as much reason why the wind blows from a particular quarter, and why it blows sometimes gently and sometimes forcibly, as there is reason why a stone falls to the ground, or a feather floats in the air. So is every one that is born of the Spirit. The Spirit's influence is settled and directed by divine
wisdom, though that wisdom is often to us unsearchable, and “ his ways past finding out.”
But though we cannot controul the operation of the wind or of the Spirit, we can see the effects of both, and we know the presence of both by those effects. Of the wind it is said here, Thou hearest the sound thereof. It breathes in the gentle gales of spring, and all nature is refreshed and rejoiced ; it roars in the boisterous storm, and the forest shakes, and the vast sea heaves under its force So likewise is the effect of the Spirit on the heart. The effect is manifest, though the agent is not visible. It is seen in that “ righteousness, and peace, and joy,” which are among its most precious results. Or it is seen in that boldness, and zeal, and energy, which rises against opposition; which takes the kingdom of heaven by violence; which rebukes the tyrant on his throne, and defies even the “ king of terrors."
These are proofs of the Spirit which will be differently manifested in different characters, according to their respective circumstances. But there is one proof which must be evident in every man who has a Christian hope in him : namely, that the flesh is subdued to the spirit. St. Paul has shown us, (Rom. viii. 1–14, that it is the great business of the Christian life to “ crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts :" as it is the sure mark of a Christian that “ he walks not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and “they that are after the flesh cannot please God; because the carnal mind is enmity
against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die ; but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”.
DISCOURSE WITH NICODEMUS CONTINUED. THE
TYPE OF THE BRAZEN SERPENT.
John iii. 9-15.
9. Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be ?
10. Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things ?
11. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen ; and ye receive not our witness.
12. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?
13. And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man, which is in heaven.
2 Rom. viii. 10-14.
Nicodemus ought to have understood the necessity of that regeneration of which he was so hard to be convinced. For it was nothing new, to a master of Israel, to one instructed out of the law and the prophets. David had prayed, that God would “ create a new heart, and a right spirit within him.” And God had promised the same, by the mouth of his prophets : saying in many places, “ Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean : from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you."
But even if it had not been so, and these things had been more novel and more mysterious than they were, Jesus was to be believed. He had given proofs that he ought to be believed : and Nicodemus had come, acknowledging this; acknowledging that he had shown himself to be a teacher sent from God. Yet he disputes his teaching, and says, How can these things be?
This is very common. We avow our belief, and we do believe, that Jesus is the Son of God; and yet we receive not his witness : and live and act as if those things could not be, or would not be, of which he has declared, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen.
And yet if we refuse this testimony, to whom shall we go? No man hath ascended up to heaven; no man can tell us of heavenly things, but he that came down from heaven for that express purpose, even the Son of man which is in heaven: whose abode