John 3:9
Things natural are the emblems of things spiritual. It is no accident that in this very verse the same word is used to designate the wind that blows upon the surface of the earth, and the Spirit that breathes over the souls of men. In many languages the breeze or the breath is the symbol of the unseen vital principle that distinguishes living beings from the material universe, and even of the higher and properly spiritual nature. Our Lord in this passage of his conversation with Nicodemus extends the symbolism from the principle to its agency, and illustrates the working of the Spirit of God by a reference to the mysterious movement of the wind. The parallelism appears in -

I. THE ORIGIN. Man is powerless to cause the wind to blow from one quarter or from another, for the wind is one of the great forces of nature, i.e. of the operation of God, the Maker and Lord of all. In like manner, the Spirit of truth and holiness is the Spirit of God. No man can claim credit for his influences; they belong to the superhuman system which is independent of human wisdom or skill. If the Church of Christ is the creation of the Spirit (ubi Spiritus, ibi Ecclesia), it is not an institution of human origin and device, but an organism into which God himself has breathed the breath of life.

II. THE CHARACTERISTICS.

1. The wind is invisible, and the same is the case with the Spirit of God, who is perceived by no one of the senses. Invisibility is no proof of the unreality of the breeze or the gale. The influence of the Spirit of God is upon human souls, and cannot be traced by the action of the senses; but that influence is as real as is that of any force, whether material or psychical.

2. The Spirit of God resembles the wind in the secret and inscrutable character of his operations. That there are meteorological laws is not questioned; but the forces that account for the wind are so many and so complicated, that they are even now only very partially understood. At all events, the variations of the atmosphere were altogether unknown to Nicodemus, and the argument was obviously effective for him. In like manner, the operations of God's Spirit are mysterious; they take place in the recesses of the soul; their method is often incomprehensible by us. Yet there is nothing arbitrary or capricious in these operations; they are all the manifestations of Divine wisdom and goodness. The workings of the Holy Ghost are present where we, perhaps, should little have expected them. Not only can we not prescribe to God how he should work; we cannot always tell how he has worked. He evidently has many direct channels by which his Spirit approaches the souls of men.

III. THE RESULTS. If we cannot see the wind or trace its modes of action, we are at no loss to understand and appreciate its effects. We hear its sound, we feel its force, we perceive its presence by its works. The Spirit makes his efficacy apparent by his fruits.

1. How powerful is the Spirit of God! The wind, by its steady blowing, turns the sails of the mill, propels the ship across the ocean; by its vehemence, in the form of a hurricane or a whirlwind, destroys great works, uproots trees, unroofs houses. But what is this, as evidence of power, compared with the effects wrought by the Holy Spirit in human hearts - in human society? Here we see the mightiest works of the Supreme.

2. How various are the tokens of the Spirit's working! The wind may be Boreas or Zephyr; may sink into a sigh or wax into a roar; may pile the clouds in masses, or drive the mists like sheep before it, or fling the hail abroad. And the Spirit of God is the Spirit of truth, of conviction, of holiness, of consolation. The same Spirit distributes varied gifts to men "severally as he will." None can limit, none can even trace out, the diversity of spiritual operations.

3. How beneficent is the Spirit of God in his working! The wind does harm; yet its action, on the whole, is advantageous. But the Holy Ghost not only works good; he works nothing but good. He who is "born of the Spirit" is born to a new, a holy, a Divine life. A spiritual dispensation is the occasion of hope to this humanity, imparts to it a prospect which otherwise the most sanguine would not venture to dream of. A ransomed humanity thus becomes a renewed humanity, and renewal is the pledge of glorification. From the four winds the breath comes and breathes upon the slain; and the dead. live, and "stand upon their feet, an exceeding great army." - T.







How can these things be?
This question is often asked concerning revivals of religion, and in dealing with it I would show —

I. THAT THERE ARE SOLID GROUNDS ON WHICH TO BUILD A HOPE OF THE DISPENSATION OF THE SPIRIT TO PRODUCE REVIVALS OF RELIGION IN OUR CHURCHES.

1. We should endeavour to obtain a correct estimate of the real condition of the primitive churches of whom we read that they received the Holy Ghost. On this subject there are two opinions.(1) Some regard them as bordering on perfection.(2) Others as discovering the weaknesses of an infantile state emerging from barbarism. The truth lies between the two extremes. They were distinguished by peculiar privileges and exalted attainments, but many of them were possessed of weakness, imperfections, and sins. Yet nothing is more indisputable than that they were in constant receipt of the influences of the Spirit of God.

2. The Holy Spirit chooses oftentimes to display His Divine prerogative of sovereignty as to the time, place, and modes of His operations; and He displays it in such a manner that not unfrequently He gives no account of it to us. How is it that of two men brought up under the same influences one is converted and the other not? There is an analogy between the operations of God in nature and in grace, as different countries will yield different productions, each excellent in their kind; as oaks are of slow, and parasites of rapid growth, so is the work of conversion. Read the explication of the subject in 1 Corinthians 12. So one country is visited with a dispensation of the Spirit which issues in marked and numerous conversions, while another is visited with one which issues in works in defence of the gospel, and yet another with the missionary spirit.

3. There are circumstantials often connected with revivals which are by no means essential to their general character.(1) It is no indication of a genuine revival that there is great excitement. There may be real spiritual excitement, but often it is of an empty character; and there may be a true revival when all is calm and noiseless.(2) Nor is it a certain evidence that great numbers profess to be converted.

4. There are facts frequently occurring amongst ourselves which prove that the Spirit has not forsaken us.(1) Individual sermons are known to produce great results.(2) Churches often receive members into fellowship without special efforts.(3) Individual cases of conversion show the Spirit's operation.

5. Inference that if the means be employed we may expect yet greater things in the way of the Spirit's manifestations.

II. THERE ARE PREPARATORY MEASURES TO BE ADOPTED IN ORDER TO THE ATTAINMENT OF THESE HIGH AND GRACIOUS DISTINCTIONS.

1. Cultivate a solemn, deep, and abiding conviction of the necessity and importance of the Spirit's influences to advance the cause of religion.(1) In your own hearts.(2) In your congregations and churches.

2. Labour to put out of the way all those impediments which tend to obstruct the descent of the Spirit. Trifling with prayer, speculating on gospel verities, hypocrisy in worship, conformity with the world, uncharitableness and all those things which "grieve the Holy Spirit of God."

3. Acknowledge thankfully what God has already done by His Spirit.(1) Not to do so displays ignorance and ingratitude.(2) To do so will open the eye to God's wonderful working in many particulars, church building, Bible circulation, Sunday schools, missions, etc.

4. Consecrate more time to fervent and importunate prayer-private, family, social, etc.

5. Expect great things from God.

(J. Clayton.)

John Wesley always preferred the middling and lower classes to the wealthy. He said, "If I might choose, I should still, as I have done hitherto, preach the gospel to the poor." Preaching in Monkton Church, a large old, ruinous building, he says, "I suppose it has scarce had such a congregation during this century. Many of them were gay, genteel people, so I spoke on the first elements of the gospel, but I was still out of their depth. Oh, how hard it is to be shallow enough for a polite audience!"

(Anecdotes of the Wesleys.)

To unconverted persons a great part of the Bible resembles a letter written in cipher. The blessed Spirit's office is to act as God's decipherer, by letting His people into the secret of celestial experience, as the key and clue to those sweet mysteries of grace, which were before as a garden shut up, or as a fountain sealed, or as a book written in an unknown character.

(Toplady.)

I. THE INQUIRER Nicodemus was —

1. A sincere inquirer; his sincerity was based on a conviction of Christ's Divine mission. He knew there could be no trickery or magic in His wonderful works. Hence his unequivocal confession.

2. An anxious inquirer.

3. A perplexed inquirer.(1) Perplexity results from thought and imperfect knowledge. In the multitude of his thoughts Nicodemus is bewildered. He is learned in the law, but ignorant of Christ's true character as witnessed by the prophets.(2) Prejudice begets perplexity; and to receive Jesus as the Messiah was to do violence to all orthodox views. But blessed is the perplexity that prompts to inquiry.

4. A reverential inquirer.

II. THE SUBJECTS TAUGHT IN THE INQUIRY ROOM: —

1. The kingdom of God. This kingdom is —

(1)Real, though not of this world.

(2)Spiritual; hence it cometh without observation.

(3)Victorious, its weapons being mighty through God.

2. This kingdom has conditions. Entrance to it could not be —

(1)by natural birth;

(2)by nationality;

(3)circumcision;

(4)pharisaical righteousness;

(5)but by Divine birth.

III. THE METHOD ADOPTED WAS COVERSATIONAL.

IV. THE RESULTS.

1. For a time doubtful.

2. Afterwards most satisfactory.

(Joseph Heaton.)

1. We live in a world of wonders: vegetable growth, insect evolution, human birth; about each of which we might well say, "How can these things be?"

2. There are greater wonders in the world towards which we are hastening — resurrection, etc.

3. Not less wonderful is the work of grace within a man's soul.

I. WHAT THESE THINGS WERE WHICH PERPLEXED NICODEMUS. The new birth.

1. This doctrine is one of which the Bible is full. See John 1:13; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 1:20; 1 Peter 1:23, which teach that only by the almighty power of God can a dead sinner be born again, and that this power is exercised through the Word of Truth.

2. This doctrine presupposes the corruption of human nature — not that it has simply gone wrong through bad example and vicious training. It does not want mending, but renewing.

3. David found this out — "I was shapen in iniquity." So did St. Paul — "In my flesh dwelleth no good thing," "They that are in the flesh cannot please God."

4. This doctrine is very humbling to pride of birth and intellect.

5. This doctrine conveys a blessed truth. Man may become a child of God, holy and meet for heaven.

6. Heaven being a character as well as a place no man can enter without being born again.

II. THESE ARE THE THINGS WE MUST KNOW IF WE ARE TO BE SAVED.

1. The very worst may be saved.

2. To be saved we must go to the author of the new birth.

3. Whatsoever may be our wants with regard to the present life nothing can stand in the place of His. Philanthropic schemes are good in their place, but are as the small dust of the balance compared with this.

4. The new birth is a personal experience, and each sinner must come individually, prayerfully, believingly and now.

(Canon Miller.)

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