The Mysterious Beginnings of Grace in the Soul

John 3:1-8

There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: the same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. 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.

JOHN GILL (1697-1771): The beauty and propriety of this simile will more appear by observing that the same Hebrew word רוח 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. So likewise the Greek word πνευμα 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.

MATTHEW HENRY (1662-1714): The Spirit came upon the apostles in a rushing mighty wind, Acts 2:2. His strong influences on the hearts of sinners are compared to the breathing of the wind Ezekiel 37:9, and His sweet influences on the souls of saints to the north and south wind, Song of Solomon 4:16.

JOHN NEWTON (1725-1807): The manner of the Lord’s work in the hearts of His people is not easily traced; though the fact is certain, and the evidence demonstrable from Scripture. In attempting to explain it, we can only speak in general, and are at a loss to form such a description as shall take in the immense variety of cases which occur in the experience of believers.

JOHN GILL: 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, I 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.

MATTHEW HENRY: The Spirit, in regeneration, works powerfully, and with evident effects―Thou hearest the sound thereof―though its causes are hidden, its effects are manifest. When the soul is brought to mourn for sin, to groan under the burden of corruption, to breathe after Christ, to cry “Abba, Father,” then we hear the sound of the Spirit, and we find He is at work, as in Acts 9:11: “Behold he prayeth.” He works mysteriously, and in secret hidden ways: Thou canst not tell whence it comes, nor whither it goes. How it gathers and how it spends its strength is a riddle to us; so the manner and methods of the Spirit’s working are a mystery.

WILLIAM ARNOT (1808-1875): The way of God, in the regeneration of man, is past finding out. One part of it He keeps near Himself, concealed by the clouds and darkness that surround His throne; another part of it He has clearly revealed to our understandings, and pressed on our hearts.

J. C. RYLE (1816-1900): The Bible applied to the heart by the Holy Ghost, is the grand instrument by which souls are first converted to God.  That mighty change is generally begun by some text or doctrine of the Word brought home to a man’s conscience.

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): Usually when God converts young people in the first stages of sin, before they have formed evil habits, He does it in a gentle manner; not by the “terrors of the law, the tempest, fire and smoke,” but He makes them like Lydia, “whose heart the Lord opened” that she received the word.  On such “it droppeth like the gentle dew from heaven upon the place beneath.” With hardened sinners grace cometh down in showers that rattle on them; but in young converts it often cometh gently. There is just the sweet breathing of the Spirit. They perhaps scarcely think it is a true conversion; but true it is, if they are brought to life.       

WILHELMUS à BRAKEL (1635-1711): Even in the common way of conversion, one experiences something with which another is not acquainted.

THOMAS MANTON (1620-1677): Many of God’s children cannot trace the particular footsteps of their conversion.

JONATHAN EDWARDS (1703-1758): Conversion is a great and glorious work of God’s power, at once changing the heart, and infusing life into the dead soul; though the grace then implanted more gradually displays itself in some than in others. But as to fixing on the precise time when they put forth the very first act of grace, there is a great deal of difference in different persons; in some it seems to be very discernible when the very time was; but others are more at a loss…It is to be feared that some have gone too far in attempting to direct the Spirit of the Lord, and to mark out His footsteps for Him. Experience clearly shows that we cannot trace the operations of the Holy Spirit in the conversion of some who afterward prove the best of Christians.

JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564): There is no reason to doubt that it was religious principle and conscientious feeling that excited in Nicodemus the desire to gain a more intimate knowledge of the doctrine of Christ. And although that seed remained long concealed and apparently dead, yet after the death of Christ it yielded fruit, such as no man would ever have expected, John 19:39.

ANDRONICUS (16th Century): The Lord’s dealings with His people are various, but all lead to the same end; some are shaken with terror, while others are more gently drawn, as with cords of love. In these things believers should not make their experiences standards one for another; still there is a similarity in their being brought to the same point of rejecting both sinful and righteous self, and believing on the Lord Jesus Christ as their complete salvation.


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