John 3:8
The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
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(8) The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof.—Better (see Note below), the Spirit breatheth where He willeth, and thou hearest His voice. These words are an explanation of the spiritual birth, the necessity of which has been asserted in the previous verses. They must have come to Nicodemus, bringing in their sound echoes of the old familiar words, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). These words would bring to the mind thoughts of the human body, cold, lifeless, corpse-like; of the breath of life passing into it; of the beating pulse, the opening eye, the action of nerve, muscle, and limb, as, in obedience to God’s will, matter became the framework of spirit, and man became a living soul. There are parallel thoughts of the spirit existing in capacity for life and union with God, but crushed beneath the physical life with its imperative demands for support, and the sensible life with its engrossing pleasures and pains, and sorrows and joys; of the Spirit of God breathing upon it; and of the dormant power awakening into a new life of noblest thoughts and hopes and energies, when man is born of the Spirit.

And yet the new spiritual birth, like the physical, cannot be explained. We can observe the phenomena, we cannot trace the principle of life. He breatheth where He willeth, in the wide world of man, free as the wind of heaven, bound by no limits of country or of race. The voice is heard speaking to the man himself, and through him to others; there is the evidence of the new birth in the new life. We know not whence He comes, or whither He goes. We cannot fix the day or hour of the new birth with certainty. We know not what its final issues will be. It is the beginning of a life which is a constant growth, and the highest development here is but the germ of that which shall be hereafter (1John 3:2).

So is every one that is born of the Spirit.—The sense is, In this manner is every one (born) who is born of the Spirit. The universality is again emphatically asserted. Individual spiritual life depends upon individual spiritual birth. The baptism of the Spirit is needed for all. Now, indeed, coming as a fire burning in men’s hearts, consuming the chaff of sin, while He purifies and stores up all that is true and good; now coming as in a moment, and arresting a man in a course of evil, revealing the iniquity of sin, and giving the power to reform; now coming as the gradual dawning of day upon the youthful soul who has never been wholly without it; here in a sermon or a prayer, there in the lessons of childhood; now by the example of a noble life or the lessons of history; again in the study of Scripture or the truths written on the page of nature—the Spirit breatheth where it willeth. We may not limit His action, but by His action must every one be born again. Comp. the instances of what men call gradual conversion and sudden conversion, placed side by side in the same chapter, in Acts 16:14; Acts 16:29 et seq.

The rendering of the first clause of this verse by the Spirit breatheth for “wind bloweth” of the Authorised version has met with so little support that it is right to state briefly the grounds on which it rests.



John 3:8

Perhaps a gust of night wind swept round the chamber where Nicodemus sat listening to Jesus, and gave occasion for this condensed parable. But there is occasion sufficient for it in the word ‘Spirit,’ which, both in the language in which our Lord addressed the ruler of the Sanhedrim, and in that which John employed in recording the conversation, as in our own English, means both ‘spirit’ and ‘breath.’ This double signification of the word gives rise to the analogies in our text, and it also raises the question as to the precise meaning of the text. There are two alternatives, one adopted by our Authorised and Revised Version, and one which you will find relegated to the margin of the latter. We may either read ‘the wind bloweth’ or ‘the Spirit breathes.’ I must not be tempted here to enter into a discussion of the grounds upon which the one or the other of these two renderings may be preferred. Suffice it to say that I adhere to the rendering which lies before us, and find here a comparison between the salient characteristics of the physical fact and the operations of the Divine Spirit upon men’s spirits.

But then, there is another step to be taken. Our Lord has just been laying down the principle that like begets like, that flesh produces flesh, and spirit, spirit. And so, applying that principle, He says here, not as might be expected, ‘So is the work of the Divine Spirit in begetting new life in men,’ but ‘So is he that is born of the Spirit.’ There are three things brought into relation with one another: the physical fact; the operations of the Spirit of God, of which that physical fact in its various characteristics may be taken as a symbol; and the result of its operations in the new man who is made ‘after the image of Him that created him.’

It is to the last of these that I wish to turn. Here you have the ideal of the Christian life, considered as the product of the free Spirit of God, the picture of what all Christian people have the capacity of being, the obligation to be, and are, just in the measure in which that new life, which the Spirit of God bestows, is dominant in them and moulding their character. So I take these characteristics just as they arise.

I. Here you have the freedom of the new life.

‘The wind bloweth where it listeth.’ Of course, in these days of weather forecasts and hoisting cones, we know that the wind is subject to as rigid physical laws as any other phenomena. But Jesus Christ speaks here, as the Bible always speaks about Nature, from two points of view-one the popular, regarding the thing as it looks on the surface, and the other what I may call the poetico-devout-finding ‘sermons in stones, books in the running brooks,’ and hints of the spiritual world in all the phenomena of the natural. So, just as in spite of meteorological science, there has passed into common speech the proverbial simile ‘as free as the wind,’ so Jesus Christ says here, ‘The wind bloweth where it listeth, . . . so is every one that is born of the Spirit.’ He passes by the intermediate link, the Spirit that is the parent of the life, and deals with the resulting life and declares that it is self-impelled and self-directed. Is that a characteristic to be desired or admired? Is doing as we list precisely the description of the noblest life? It is the description of the purely animal one. It is the description of an entirely ignoble and base one. It may become the description of an atrociously criminal one. But we do not generally think that a man that says ‘Thus I will; thus I command; let the fact that I will it stand in the place of all reason,’ is speaking from a lofty point of view.

But there are two sorts of ‘listing.’ There is the listing which is the yielding to the mob of ignoble passions and clamant desires of the animal nature within us, and there is the ‘listing’ which is obeying the impulses of a higher will, that has been blended with ours. And there you come to the secret of true freedom, which does not consist in doing as I like, but in liking to do as God wishes me to do. When our Lord says ‘where it listeth,’ He implies that a change has passed over a man, when that new life is born within him, whereby the law, the known will of God, is written upon his heart, and, inscribed on these fleshly tables, becomes no longer an iron force external to him, but a vital impulse within him. That is freedom, to have my better will absolutely conterminous and coincident with the will of God, so far as I know it. Just as a man is not imprisoned by limits beyond which he has no desire to go, so freedom, and elevation, and nobility come by obeying, not the commands of an external authority, but the impulse of an inward life.

‘Ye have not received the spirit of bondage,’ because God hath given us the Spirit of power, and of love, and of self-control, which keeps down that base and inferior ‘listing,’ and elevates the higher and the nobler one, ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,’ because duty has become delight, and there is no desire in the new and higher nature for anything except that which God enjoins. The true freedom is when, by the direction of our will, we change ‘must’ into ‘I delight to do Thy will.’ So we are set free from the bondage and burden of a law that is external, and is not loved, and are brought into the liberty of, for dear love’s sake, doing the will of the beloved.

‘Myself shall to my darling be

Both law and impulse,’

says one of the poets about a far inferior matter. It is true in reference to the Christian life, and the ‘liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free,’

But, then, in order freely to understand the sweep and the greatness of this perfect law of liberty, we must remember that the new life is implanted in us precisely in order that we may suppress, and, if need be, cast out and exorcise, that lower ‘listing,’ of which I have said that it is always ignoble and sometimes animal. For this freedom will bring with it the necessity for continual warfare against all that would limit and restrain it-namely, the passions and desires and inclinations of our baser or nobler, but godless, self. These are, as it were, deposed by the entrance of the new life. But it is a dangerous thing to keep dethroned and discrowned tyrants alive, and the best thing is to behead them, as well as to cast them from their throne. ‘If ye, through the Spirit, do put to death the deeds’ and inclinations and wills ‘of the flesh, ye shall live’; and if you do not, they will live and will kill you. So the freedom of the new life is a militant freedom, and we have to fight to maintain it. As Burke said about the political realm, ‘the price of liberty is eternal vigilance,’ so we say about the new life of the Christian man-he is free only on condition that he keeps well under hatches the old tyrants, who are ever plotting and struggling to have dominion once again.

Still further, whilst this new life makes us free from the harshness of a law that can only proclaim duty, and also makes us free from our own baser selves, it makes us free from all human authority. The true foundation of the Christian democracy is that each individual soul has direct and immediate access to, and direct and real possession of, God, in his spirit and life. Therefore, in the measure in which we draw into ourselves the new life and the Spirit of God shall we be independent of men round us, and be able to say, ‘With me it is a very small matter to be judged of you or of man’s judgment.’ That new life ought to make men original, in the deep and true sense of the word, as drawing their conceptions of duty and their methods of life, not at second hand from other men, but straight from God Himself. If the Christian Church was fuller of that divine life than it is, it would be fuller of all varieties of Christian beauty and excellence, and all these would be the work of ‘that one and the selfsame Spirit dividing to every man severally as He will.’ If this congregation were indeed filled with the new life, there would be an exuberance of power, and a harmonious diversity of characteristics about it, and a burning up of the conventionalities of Christian profession such as we do not dream of to-day. ‘The wind bloweth where it listeth.’

II. Here we have this new life in its manifestation.

‘Thou hearest the sound,’ or, as the Word might literally be rendered, the ‘voice thereof,’ from the little whisper among the young soft leaves of the opening beeches in our woods to-day, up to the typhoon that spreads devastation over leagues of tropical ocean. That voice, now a murmur, now a roar, is the only manifestation of the unseen force that sweeps around us. And if you are a Christian man or woman your new life should be thus perceptible to others, in a variety of ways, no doubt, and in many degrees of force. You cannot show its roots; you are bound to show its fruits. You cannot lay bare your spirits, and say to the world, ‘Look! there is the presence of a divine germ in me,’ but you can go about amongst men, and witness to the possession of it by the life that you live. There are a great many Christian people from whom, if you were to listen ever so intently, you would not hear a sough or a ripple. There is a dead calm; the ‘rushing mighty wind’ has died down; and there is nothing but a greasy swell upon the windless ocean. ‘The wind bloweth,’ and the ‘sound’ is heard. The wind ceases, and there is a hideous silence. And that is the condition of many a man and woman that has a name to live and is dead. Does anybody hear the whisper of that breath in your life, Christian man? It is not for me to answer the question; it is for you to ask it and answer it for yourselves.

And Christians should be in the world, as the very breath of life amidst stagnation. When the Christian Church first sprung into being it did come into that corrupt, pestilential march of ancient heathenism with healing on its wings, and like fresh air from the pure hills into some fever-stricken district. Wherever there has been a new outburst, in the experience of individuals and of churches, of that divine life, there has come, and the world has felt that there has come, a new force that breathes over the dry bones, and they live. Alas, alas! that so frequently the professing Christian Church has ceased to discharge its plain function, to breathe on the slain that they may live.

They are curing, or say they are curing, consumption nowadays, by taking the patient and keeping him in the open air, and letting the wind of heaven blow freely about him. That, and not shutting people in warm chambers, and coddling them with the prescriptions of social and political reformation, that is the cure for the world’s diseases. Wherever the new life is vigorous in men, men will hear the sound thereof, and recognise that it comes from heaven.

III. Lastly, here we have the new life in its double secret.

I have been saying that it has a means of manifestation which all Christian people are bound to exemplify. But our Lord draws a broad distinction between that which can be manifested and that which cannot. As I said, you can show the leaves and the fruits; the roots are covered. ‘Thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, nor whither it goeth.’

The origin of that new life is ‘hid with Christ in God.’ And so, since we are not dependent upon external things for the communication of the life, we should not be dependent upon them for its continuation and its nourishment, and we should realise that, if we are Christians, we are living in two regions, and, though as regards the surface life we belong to the things of time, as regards the deepest life, we belong to eternity. All the surface springs may run dry. What then? As long as there is a deep-seated fountain that comes welling up, the fields will be green, and we may laugh at famine and drought. If it be true that ‘our lives are hid with Christ in God,’ then it ought to be true that the nourishments, as well as the direction and impulse of them, are drawn from Him, and that we seek not so much for the abundance of the things that minister to the external as for the fulness of those that sustain the inward, the true life, the life of Christ in the soul.

The world does not know where that Christian life comes from. If you are a Christian, you ought to bear in your character a certain indefinable something that will suggest to the people round you that the secret power of your life is other than the power which moulds theirs. You may be naturalised, and you may speak fairly well the language of the country in which you are a sojourner, but there ought to be something in your accent which tells where you come from, and betrays the foreigner. We ought to move amongst men, having about us that which cannot be explained by what is enough to explain their lives. A Christian life should be the manifestation to the world of the supernatural.

They ‘know not whence it cometh nor whither it goeth.’ No; that new life in its feeblest infancy, and before it speaks, if I may so say, is, by its very existence, a prophet, and declares that there must be, beyond this ‘bank and shoal of time,’ a region to which it is native, and in which it may grow to maturity. You will find in your greenhouses exotics that stand there, after all your pains and coals, stunted, and seeming to sigh for the tropical heat which is their home. The earnest of our inheritance, the first-fruits of the Spirit, the Christian life which originated in, and is sustained by, the flowing of the divine life into us, demands that, somehow or other, the stunted plant should be lifted and removed into that ‘higher house where these are planted’-and what shall be the spread of its branches, and the lustre of its leaves, and what the gorgeousness of its blossoms, and what the perennial sweetness of its fruits then and there, ‘it doth not yet appear.’

They ‘know not whither it goeth.’ And even those who themselves possess it know not, nor shall know, through the ages of a progressive approximation to the ever-approached and never-attained perfection. ‘This spake He of the Holy Ghost, which they that believe on Him should receive.’ Trust Christ, and ‘the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus shall make you free from the law of sin and death.’

3:1-8 Nicodemus was afraid, or ashamed to be seen with Christ, therefore came in the night. When religion is out of fashion, there are many Nicodemites. But though he came by night, Jesus bid him welcome, and hereby taught us to encourage good beginnings, although weak. And though now he came by night, yet afterward he owned Christ publicly. He did not talk with Christ about state affairs, though he was a ruler, but about the concerns of his own soul and its salvation, and went at once to them. Our Saviour spoke of the necessity and nature of regeneration or the new birth, and at once directed Nicodemus to the source of holiness of the heart. Birth is the beginning of life; to be born again, is to begin to live anew, as those who have lived much amiss, or to little purpose. We must have a new nature, new principles, new affections, new aims. By our first birth we were corrupt, shapen in sin; therefore we must be made new creatures. No stronger expression could have been chosen to signify a great and most remarkable change of state and character. We must be entirely different from what we were before, as that which begins to be at any time, is not, and cannot be the same with that which was before. This new birth is from heaven, ch. 1:13, and its tendency is to heaven. It is a great change made in the heart of a sinner, by the power of the Holy Spirit. It means that something is done in us, and for us, which we cannot do for ourselves. Something is wrong, whereby such a life begins as shall last for ever. We cannot otherwise expect any benefit by Christ; it is necessary to our happiness here and hereafter. What Christ speak, Nicodemus misunderstood, as if there had been no other way of regenerating and new-moulding an immortal soul, than by new-framing the body. But he acknowledged his ignorance, which shows a desire to be better informed. It is then further explained by the Lord Jesus. He shows the Author of this blessed change. It is not wrought by any wisdom or power of our own, but by the power of the blessed Spirit. We are shapen in iniquity, which makes it necessary that our nature be changed. We are not to marvel at this; for, when we consider the holiness of God, the depravity of our nature, and the happiness set before us, we shall not think it strange that so much stress is laid upon this. The regenerating work of the Holy Spirit is compared to water. It is also probable that Christ had reference to the ordinance of baptism. Not that all those, and those only, that are baptized, are saved; but without that new birth which is wrought by the Spirit, and signified by baptism, none shall be subjects of the kingdom of heaven. The same word signifies both the wind and the Spirit. The wind bloweth where it listeth for us; God directs it. The Spirit sends his influences where, and when, on whom, and in what measure and degree, he pleases. Though the causes are hidden, the effects are plain, when the soul is brought to mourn for sin, and to breathe after Christ. Christ's stating of the doctrine and the necessity of regeneration, it should seem, made it not clearer to Nicodemus. Thus the things of the Spirit of God are foolishness to the natural man. Many think that cannot be proved, which they cannot believe. Christ's discourse of gospel truths, ver. 11-13, shows the folly of those who make these things strange unto them; and it recommends us to search them out. Jesus Christ is every way able to reveal the will of God to us; for he came down from heaven, and yet is in heaven. We have here a notice of Christ's two distinct natures in one person, so that while he is the Son of man, yet he is in heaven. God is the HE THAT IS, and heaven is the dwelling-place of his holiness. The knowledge of this must be from above, and can be received by faith alone. Jesus Christ came to save us by healing us, as the children of Israel, stung with fiery serpents, were cured and lived by looking up to the brazen serpent, Nu 21:6-9. In this observe the deadly and destructive nature of sin. Ask awakened consciences, ask damned sinners, they will tell you, that how charming soever the allurements of sin may be, at the last it bites like a serpent. See the powerful remedy against this fatal malady. Christ is plainly set forth to us in the gospel. He whom we offended is our Peace, and the way of applying for a cure is by believing. If any so far slight either their disease by sin, or the method of cure by Christ, as not to receive Christ upon his own terms, their ruin is upon their own heads. He has said, Look and be saved, look and live; lift up the eyes of your faith to Christ crucified. And until we have grace to do this, we shall not be cured, but still are wounded with the stings of Satan, and in a dying state. Jesus Christ came to save us by pardoning us, that we might not die by the sentence of the law. Here is gospel, good news indeed. Here is God's love in giving his Son for the world. God so loved the world; so really, so richly. Behold and wonder, that the great God should love such a worthless world! Here, also, is the great gospel duty, to believe in Jesus Christ. God having given him to be our Prophet, Priest, and King, we must give up ourselves to be ruled, and taught, and saved by him. And here is the great gospel benefit, that whoever believes in Christ, shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, and so saving it. It could not be saved, but through him; there is no salvation in any other. From all this is shown the happiness of true believers; he that believeth in Christ is not condemned. Though he has been a great sinner, yet he is not dealt with according to what his sins deserve. How great is the sin of unbelievers! God sent One to save us, that was dearest to himself; and shall he not be dearest to us? How great is the misery of unbelievers! they are condemned already; which speaks a certain condemnation; a present condemnation. The wrath of God now fastens upon them; and their own hearts condemn them. There is also a condemnation grounded on their former guilt; they are open to the law for all their sins; because they are not by faith interested in the gospel pardon. Unbelief is a sin against the remedy. It springs from the enmity of the heart of man to God, from love of sin in some form. Read also the doom of those that would not know Christ. Sinful works are works of darkness. The wicked world keep as far from this light as they can, lest their deeds should be reproved. Christ is hated, because sin is loved. If they had not hated saving knowledge, they would not sit down contentedly in condemning ignorance. On the other hand, renewed hearts bid this light welcome. A good man acts truly and sincerely in all he does. He desires to know what the will of God is, and to do it, though against his own worldly interest. A change in his whole character and conduct has taken place. The love of God is shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost, and is become the commanding principle of his actions. So long as he continues under a load of unforgiven guilt, there can be little else than slavish fear of God; but when his doubts are done away, when he sees the righteous ground whereon this forgiveness is built, he rests on it as his own, and is united to God by unfeigned love. Our works are good when the will of God is the rule of them, and the glory of God the end of them; when they are done in his strength, and for his sake; to him, and not to men. Regeneration, or the new birth, is a subject to which the world is very averse; it is, however, the grand concern, in comparison with which every thing else is but trifling. What does it signify though we have food to eat in plenty, and variety of raiment to put on, if we are not born again? if after a few mornings and evenings spent in unthinking mirth, carnal pleasure, and riot, we die in our sins, and lie down in sorrow? What does it signify though we are well able to act our parts in life, in every other respect, if at last we hear from the Supreme Judge, Depart from me, I know you not, ye workers of iniquity?The wind bloweth ... - Nicodemus had objected to the doctrine because he did not understand how it could be. Jesus shows him that he ought not to reject it on that account, for he constantly believed things quite as difficult. It might appear incomprehensible, but it was to be judged of by its effects. As in this case of the wind, the effects were seen, the sound was heard, important changes were produced by it, trees and clouds were moved, yet the wind is not seen, nor do we know whence it comes, nor by what laws it is governed; so it is with the operations of the Spirit. We see the changes produced. Men just now sinful become holy; the thoughtless become serious; the licentious become pure; the vicious, moral; the moral, religious; the prayerless, prayerful; the rebellious and obstinate, meek, and mild, and gentle. When we see such changes, we ought no more to doubt that they are produced by some cause - by some mighty agent, than when we see the trees moved, or the waters of the ocean piled on heaps, or feet the cooling effects of a summer's breeze. In those cases we attribute it to the "wind," though we see it not, and though we do not understand its operations. We may learn, hence:

1. that the proper evidence of conversion is the effect on the life.

2. that we are not too curiously to search for the cause or manner of the change.

3. that God has power over the most hardened sinner to change him, as he has power over the loftiest oak, to bring it down by a sweeping blast.

4. that there may be great variety in the modes of the operation of the Spirit. As the "wind" sometimes sweeps with a tempest, and prostrates all before it, and sometimes breathes upon us in a mild evening zephyr, so it is with the operations of the Spirit. The sinner sometimes trembles and is prostrate before the truth, and sometimes is sweetly and gently drawn to the cross of Jesus.

Where it listeth - Where it "wills" or "pleases."

So is every one ... - Everyone that is born of the Spirit is, in some respects, like the effects of the wind. You see it not, you cannot discern its laws, but you see its effects," and you know therefore that it does exist and operate. Nicodemus' objection was, that he could not "see" this change, or perceive "how" it could be. Jesus tells him that he should not reject a doctrine merely because he could not understand it. Neither could the "wind" be seen, but its effects were well known, and no one doubted the existence or the power of the agent. Compare Ecclesiastes 11:5.

8. The wind, &c.—Breath and spirit (one word both in Hebrew and Greek) are constantly brought together in Scripture as analogous (Job 27:3; 33:4; Eze 37:9-14).

canst not tell, &c.—The laws which govern the motion of the winds are even yet but partially discovered; but the risings, failings, and change in direction many times in a day, of those gentle breezes here referred to, will probably ever be a mystery to us: So of the operation of the Holy Ghost in the new birth.

The word which is translated wind, being the same which both here and ordinarily in Scripture is translated spirit, hath given interpreters a great liberty to abound in their several senses. Some thinking that it should be translated, The spirit, that is, the spirit of a man, breatheth where it listeth; and that our Saviour’s sense was, Nicodemus, thou needest not to wonder that thou canst not with thy senses perceive the spiritual new birth, for thou canst not understand the natural birth. Others think it should be translated, The Spirit, that is, the Spirit of God, bloweth where it listeth; but that seemeth not probable, because of these words,

so is every one that is born of the Spirit; which will hardly be sense if we understand the first part of the verse concerning the same Spirit; and our Saviour saith, John 3:12, If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not: they seem therefore best to understand it, who interpret it of a terrene spirit, particularly the wind, which is of a spiritual nature: and thus, by their translation, it is apparent that our interpreters understood it. So as, though our Saviour speaketh of the motions of the blessed Spirit, yet he speaketh of them by way of comparison, comparing them to the motion of the wind, of which he said, that it bloweth where it listeth; not that it is its own mover, and under no government of the First Cause; for the Psalmist tells us, Psalm 148:8, that the stormy winds fulfil God’s word; nor is any such thing compatible to any creature; but the original of its motion is to us imperceptible.

But canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: we can speak something philosophically to the cause of it, and can tell whither it bloweth, from the east, west, north, or south; but we cannot tell the particular place, where or from whence it riseth.

So is every one that is born of the Spirit: so every one, who is regenerated from the working of the Holy Spirit of God, is changed and renewed, so as we can give ourselves or others no account of it in all points, as to the inward operation, though in the effects it be discernible.

The wind bloweth where it listeth,.... For ought any mortal can say, or do to the contrary: and so the Spirit of God is a free agent in regeneration; he works how, and where, and when he pleases; he acts freely in the first operation of his grace on the heart, and in all after influences of it; as well as in the donation of his gifts to men, for different purposes; see 1 Corinthians 12:11; and this grace of the Spirit in regeneration, like the wind, is powerful and irresistible; it carries all before it; there is no withstanding it; it throws down Satan's strong holds, demolishes the fortifications of sin; the whole posse of hell, and the corruptions of a man's heart, are not a match for it; when the Spirit works, who can let?

and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, nor whither it goeth; as the wind, though its sound is heard, and its force felt, it cannot be seen; nor is it known certainly, from whence it comes, and where are the treasures of it; from whence it begins, and where it ends; so is the grace of the Spirit of God in regeneration to a natural man; it is imperceptible, indiscernible, and unaccountable by him, 1 Corinthians 2:14.

So is every one that is born of the Spirit: he is regenerated by grace, that is, as free and sovereign, as powerful and irresistible, and as secret and imperceptible, as the wind is: and seeing so ordinary a thing as the blowing of the wind is of such a nature, and so little to be accounted for; regeneration by the Spirit of God, who is comparable to the wind, and whose name so signifies, need not be thought so marvellous and astonishing, though the natural man discerns it not, and cannot account for it. The beauty and propriety of this simile will more appear by observing, that the same Hebrew word, is used both for the wind, and for the Spirit of God; it is used for the "wind", in Genesis 3:8; and in other places, and for the Spirit of God, in Genesis 1:2, and elsewhere: and so likewise the Greek word is used for them both, for the wind in this place, and often for the Holy Ghost: and it may be observed, that the Holy Spirit, because of his powerful, comfortable, and quickening influences, is compared to the wind, especially to the south wind, in some passages of the Old Testament, which Christ might have in view, Sol 4:16. What our Lord here says, concerning the wind, is confirmed by all experience, and philosophical observations; the rise of winds, from whence they come, and whither they go, cannot be ascertained; the treasures of them are only with God, and known to him; see Ecclesiastes 11:5.

The wind bloweth where it {h} listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

(h) With free and wandering blasts as it wishes.

John 3:8. τὸ πνεῦμα ὅπου θέλει πνεῖ. Two renderings of these words are possible: “The wind bloweth where it listeth,” as in A.V[39]; “The Spirit breatheth where He will,” as in margin of R.V[40] By the one rendering a comparison is instituted between the unseen but powerful operation of the Spirit in regeneration and the invisible but mighty power of the wind. You hear the voice of the wind but cannot see where it comes from nor where it goes to. So in the new birth the Spirit moves and works unseen. Similarly Socrates (Xen., Mem., iv., 3) says: The thunder as it comes and goes is not seen: the winds also are invisible though their effects are manifest; the soul of man is itself unseen, therefore despise not the unseen but honour God. In favour of the other rendering it may be urged that there is nothing to warn us that we are now to understand that by the word πνεῦμα “wind” is meant. It occurs about 370 times in the N.T., and never means “wind” except once in a quotation from the O.T. The Vulgate renders “Spiritus ubi vult spirat,” and if we could not only say “expire,” “inspire,” but also “spire,” the best translation might be “the Spirit spires”. As this cannot be, we may render: “The Spirit breathes where He will,” that is to say, there is no limitation of His power to certain individuals, classes, races. Cf. John 5:21, ὁ υἱὸς οὓς θέλει ζωοποιεῖ. The thought here is similar: there need be no despair regarding the second birth: the Spirit breathes where He will. So Bengel, “Spiritus, proprie, nam huic, non vento voluntas et vox est”.—καὶ τὴν φωνὴν αὐτοῦ ἀκούεις, the Spirit makes Himself audible in articulate and intelligible sounds. The breathing of the Spirit is like man’s breath, not mere air, but articulated and significant voice. The Spirit works intelligible results. He does not roar like the wind and toss men in unavailing contortions as the wind tosses the trees. It is a voice and the result is full of reason, in harmony with human nature and vivifying it to higher life. But for all this, οὐκ οἶδας πόθεν ἔρχεται καὶ ποῦ ὑπάγει, you cannot observe and regulate the Spirit’s approach and departure.—οὕτως ἐστὶ πᾶς ὁ γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος, thus it is in the case of every one who is born of the Spirit. You cannot see the process of regeneration; the process is secret and invisible, the results are apparent.

[39] Authorised Version.

[40] Revised Version.

8. The wind bloweth, &c.] This verse is sometimes taken very differently: the Spirit breatheth where He willeth, and thou hearest His voice, but canst not tell whence He cometh and whither He goeth; so is every one (born) who is born of the Spirit. The advantages of this rendering are (1) that it gives to Pneuma the meaning which it almost invariably has in more than 350 passages in N.T. in which it occurs, of which more than 20 are in this Gospel. Although pneuma may mean ‘the breath of the wind,’ yet its almost invariable use in N.T. is ‘spirit’ or ‘the Spirit,’ while anemos is used for ‘wind:’ (2) that it gives a better meaning to ‘willeth,’ a word more appropriate to a person than to anything inanimate: (3) that it gives to phônê the meaning which it has in 14 other passages in this Gospel, viz., ‘articulate voice,’ and not ‘inarticulate sound.’ On the other hand this rendering (1) gives to pnei the meaning ‘breathes,’ a meaning quite unknown in N.T.: (2) uses the expression ‘the voice of the Spirit,’ also unknown to Scripture: (3) requires the insertion of ‘born’ in the last clause, in order to make sense. For the usual rendering may be pleaded (1) that it gives to pnei the meaning which it has everywhere else in N.T., viz. in John 6:18 and five other passages. Although pnei may mean ‘breathes,’ yet its invariable use in N.T. is of the ‘blowing’ of the wind, while another word (John 20:22) is used for ‘breathe:’ (2) that it gives the most literal meaning to ‘hearest:’ (3) that the last clause makes excellent sense without any repetition of ‘born.’ The Aramaic word probably used by our Lord has both meanings, ‘wind’ and ‘spirit,’ so that it is not impossible that both meanings are meant to run concurrently through the passage. “It was late at night when our Lord had this interview with the Jewish teacher. At the pauses in the conversation, we may conjecture, they heard the wind without, as it moaned along the narrow streets of Jerusalem; and our Lord, as was His wont, took His creature into His service—the service of spiritual truth. The wind was a figure of the Spirit. Our Lord would have used the same word for both.” (Liddon.) There is a clear reference to this passage in the Ignatian Epistles, Philad. vii. Thus we have evidence of the Gospel being known certainly as early as a.d. 150, and probably a.d. 115.

so is every one] i.e. such is the case of every one: he feels the spiritual influence, but finds it incomprehensible in its origin, which is from above, and in its end, which is eternal life.

born of the Spirit] The Sinaitic MS. and two ancient versions read, born of water and of the Spirit. The inserted words are a gloss.

John 3:8. Τὸ πνεῦμα) The Spirit, in the proper sense; for it is He, not the wind (concerning which, however, comp. Ecclesiastes 11:5), that has a will [θέλει] and voice [φωνήν]: and it is of Him we are born, and he who is born of Him is such as He is. It is not the person born again who would be immediately compared with the wind, but the Spirit Himself.—ὅπου) where, whence, and whither: above the flesh, earth, and nature. The things opposed are, flesh and spirit; earth and heaven; nature and grace.—πνεῖ) [bloweth, Engl. Vers.: rather, as of the Spirit] breathes, in the word and sound of the Gospel; 1 John 5:6, “And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.”—ἀκούεις, thou hearest) even now also, whilst thou art hearing Me, thou hearest, on earth, the voice of the Spirit. Comp. the “earthly things,” John 3:12.—πόθεν, whence) from heaven, from above [ἄνωθεν, John 3:3].—ποῦ, whither) [‘quorsum,’ in what direction] to heaven. Comp. the “heavenly things,” John 3:12.—οὓτως) So, as the Spirit Himself, whom thou hearest, and yet knowest not. For what the Spirit doeth according to Himself [“secundum se;” in His own person and character], that He doeth also in him who is born of the Spirit. The Spirit quickens a man. The man in whom the Spirit breathes, in his turn breathes of the Spirit, and gives forth abroad [propagat] the voice of the Spirit, his will being set free through the Spirit.[53]

[53] The Engl. Vers. listeth—sound applies to the wind; whereas Beng. applies these words to the Spirit.—E. and T.

Verse 8. - The wind bloweth (the Spirit breathes, Revised Version, in margin) where it willeth, and thou hearest (his voice) the sound thereof, but thou knowest not whence it cometh and whither it goeth. Vulgate (followed by Wickliffe and the Rheims Versions) is, Spiritus ubi vult spirat et vocem ejus audis, sed nescis unde veniat, aut quo vadat: sic est omnis qui natus est ex Spiritu. Augustine, though acquainted with the other rendering, approves of this; so Origen, Bengel. The great majority of commentators and versions have held that the former of the two translations is correct; that the first time the word Πνεῦμα is used, it refers to the wind, "the unseen similitude of God the Spirit - his most meet and mightiest sign;" and that, since the same word is used for the two things, Spirit and wind, the Lord, after the parabolic manner which he adopted (in the synoptic Gospels), took advantage of some gusts of roaring wind then audible, to call attention to the mystery and incomprehensibility of its origin or end, and to see a parallel between the unknown ways of the wind and the unknown points of application to the human spirit of the mighty energy of the living God. The passage, Ecclesiastes 11:5, may have been in his mind (though there "Spirit" is as likely to be the reference as is the motion of the "wind," and our ignorance of the way of the Spirit is akin to our ignorance of the formation of bones in the womb of her who is with child), and the adoption of the unusual word πνεῖ (cf. John 6:18; Revelation 7:1; Matthew 7:25; Acts 27:40) is in support of the comparison between "wind" and the "Spirit;" while the φωνή, the "voice" or sound of the wind in trees or against any barriers, and the other effects that the rapid motion of the air produces, gives a lively illustration of the method in which the Spirit of God works in human minds, revealing, not itself, but its effects. The parallel is not peculiar to Scripture (see the remarkable passage in Xenophon, 'Memor.,' 4:3-14; also 'Rig Veda,' 10:168). It is further urged that the following clause, So is every one that hath been born of the Spirit - meaning, So doth it happen to every one who is born of the Spirit - suggests the analogy between πνεῦμα in its material sense, and πνεῦμα in its customary and deeper sense. Now, on the other hand, it appears to me that this latter clause is compatible with the older translation and application. There is a comparison, but it may be between the mysterious working, breathing of the Divine Spirit, whose "voice" or "word" may be heard, whose effects are present to our senses and consciousness, but the beginnings and endings of which are always lost in God, - and the special operations of Divine grace in the birth of the Spirit. There are numberless operations of the Spirit referred to in the Old Testament, from the first brooding of the Spirit on the formless abyss, to all the special and mighty effects wrought in creation, all the heightening and quickening of human faculty, all the conference of special strength upon men - their intellectual energies and Divine inspirations. Over and above all these, there is all the supernatural change wrought in souls by the Holy Spirit. Christ calls this a "birth of the Spirit," and declares that, according to all the mysterious comings and departings of the Spirit, leaving only manifold effects, so is the special Divine work which morally and spiritually recreates humanity. Pneuma is used three hundred and fifty times in the New Testament, and twenty times in this Gospel for "the Spirit;" and if the usage is reversed here, this is the solitary occasion. The word θέλει, is, moreover, more appropriate to a living Being than to the wind. There is another way which suggests itself by which the word Πνεῦμα may mean the same in both clauses: The breath of God bloweth where it listeth, etc., so is every one born of the breath of God. If this be possible, the form of the expression supplies a cooperating similitude drawn from the unknown origin and mighty effects of the unseen breath of heaven; and on this translation the comparison is drawn between all the ways of the Spirit and the special work of the Spirit in regeneration. An inference is deducible from either interpretation of this verse, incompatible with the theory that "birth from water" is equivalent to "regeneration in baptism." If the rite of baptism provided the moment and occasion of the spiritual result, we should know whence it came and whither it went. We might not know "how," but we should know "when" and "whence" the spiritual change took place. But this knowledge is distinctly negatived by Christ, who herein declares the moment of the spiritual birth to be lost or hidden in God. Physical birth is a deep mystery, both whence the "spirit" comes and whither it goes; the signs of the presence of life are abundant, but there is an infinite difference between the stillborn or dead child and the living one. Similarly, the commencement of the Spirit's creation within our nature is lost in mystery. We discern its presence by its effects, by consciousness of a new life and sense of a new world all around the newly born, but the Spirit-birth, like all the other operations of the Spirit, is hidden in God. John 3:8The wind (τὸ πνεῦμα)

Some hold by the translation spirit, as Wyc., the spirit breatheth where it will. In Hebrew the words spirit and wind are identical. Πνεῦμα is from πνέω to breathe or blow, the verb used in this verse (bloweth), and everywhere in the New Testament of the blowing of the wind (Matthew 7:25, Matthew 7:27; Luke 12:55; John 6:18). It frequently occurs in the classics in the sense of wind. Thus Aristophanes, τὸ πνεῦμ' ἔλαττον γίγνεται, the wind is dying away ("Knights," 441), also in the New Testament, Hebrews 1:7, where the proper translation is, "who maketh His angels winds," quoted from Psalm 103:4 (Sept.). In the Septuagint, 1 Kings 18:45; 1 Kings 19:11; 2 Kings 3:17; Job 1:19. In the New Testament, in the sense of breath, 2 Thessalonians 2:8; Revelation 11:11. The usual rendering, wind, is confirmed here by the use of the kindred verb πνεῖ, bloweth, and by φωνὴν, sound, voice. Tholuck thinks that the figure may have been suggested to Jesus by the sound of the night-wind sweeping through the narrow street.

Where it listeth (ὅπου θέλει)

On the verb θέλω, to will or determine, see on Matthew 1:19. Listeth is old English for pleasure or willeth, from the Anglo-Saxon lust, meaning pleasure. Chaucer has the forms leste, lust, and list.

"Strong was the wyn, and wel to drynke us leste (pleased)."

"Canterbury Tales," 752.

"Love if thee lust."

"Canterbury Tales," 1185.

"She walketh up and down wher as hire list (wherever she pleases)."

"Canterbury Tales," 1054.

"A wretch by fear, not force, like Hannibal,

Drives back our troops, and conquers as she lists."

Shakespeare, "Henry VI.," Pt. I., i., v., 22.

Hence listless is devoid of desire. The statement of Jesus is not meant to be scientifically precise, but is rather thrown into a poetic mold, akin to the familiar expression "free as the wind." Compare 1 Corinthians 12:11; and for the more prosaic description of the course of the wind, see Ecclesiastes 1:6.


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