"Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you. And when He is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believed not on me: of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged." (John 16:7-11)
The Spirit of God was always in existence, but He was not made manifest to human eyes and ears till the day of His birth. I am desirous of impressing this fact in connection with the Spirit upon your minds, because it has been most erroneously supposed by some parties, that the Spirit of God was unknown to the saints under the old dispensation. To disprove this dangerous heresy I need but refer you to two or three passages of Scripture: Luke 2:25-27; 2 Peter 1:21. These of themselves are decisive upon the point; but the Spirit of God is alluded to in many places in the Old Testament; Gen. 6:3, Exod. 31:2,6; Num. 2:26; Num. 11:16,17; Num. 23:24; Deut. 34:9; 1 Sam. 10:10. David evidently knew of the Spirit's existence, and of the Spirit's operations, for he prayed, "Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me:" (Ps. 51:11) "Uphold me with Thy free Spirit;" (Ps. 51:12) and exclaimed, "Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit?" (Ps. 139:7) And the prophets frequently speak of the Spirit of God. In fact, the Spirit of God did the work of quickening, of teaching, and of enlightening in the Old Testament saints, that He does in New Testament saints; for there is but one plan of salvation, and but one way of getting to know it, by the Spirit. But why should Christ say, "I will send Him to you," if He had been with them already? What Christ meant evidently was sending Him visibly and miraculously to His Church. This visible manifestation of the Holy Ghost was as much needed for the comfort and establishing of the Church, as "God manifest in the flesh" was; or, in other words, "the unusual manifestation of the Holy Spirit in Pentecostal times was the affixing of the great seal of God to the mission of Christ." First, I would now open the text for you, and make some practical use of it as we go along.
I. John 16:7-11. The Lord had been forewarning His disciples of what they were to expect from the world on account of their profession, and had been telling them of His approaching departure. This naturally filled those poor fellow's hearts with sadness. "Nevertheless," says Christ--notwithstanding this bewilderment and sorrow of yours,--"I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away." How this declaration must have for the moment added to their bewilderment! Why, doubtless, they thought, "It would be far more expedient for Thee to remain with us than go away! Why not stay with us to protect us in the midst of all those trials and dangers You tell us about?" "But, no," says Christ, "it is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you."
Now what did Christ mean? Why this, unless the Lord passed through His sufferings to glory, the promised Comforter would not come in His visible manifestation to them. This blessing was bestowed through Christ's atonement and intercession, and the miraculous and visible outpouring of the Holy Ghost would be the immediate effect of Christ's ascension into heaven. But you ask, "Was not the Comforter with the Old Testament saints, and could He not have been with the Lord's disciples, or His Church under the new dispensation without Christ's going away?" To which I answer, Christ was the Atoner and Mediator for the Old Testament saints as well as He is the Atoner and Mediator for the saints now; but the Holy Ghost was sent to the Old Testament saints (if we may so speak), on trust for what Christ promised to do; and, now that He has done it, the Holy Ghost is sent to us also. It was expedient that Christ should suffer, in order to pay the debt He had contracted, and to fulfill the obligations He had undertaken from all eternity. The Father trusted Him for the Old Testament saints; but, when the time came for him to actually pay down the debt He had made Himself liable for, He had to "go away" through sufferings to glory. This is the meaning of the Lord. But again, apart from the necessity for the Lord's going away, the disciples or the Church would be gainers instead of losers by the change: for the Comforter would be everywhere present with them when widely separated from each other, whereas the bodily presence of Christ could have been only in one place at a time. Besides all which, the teachings of the Comforter would be inward and efficacious, and His influences would qualify them for their work, and ensure success in it. Thus it was expedient on all hands that Christ should go away, and that the Holy Ghost should manifestly come. I trust I make this plain to you; and now we will reflect upon what the Lord further says of the Comforter.
II. "And when He is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged." The word reprove here is far too weak to express Christ's meaning. The original means "convict" and "convince." So that the Comforter would convict of condemnation, and convince of salvation those to whom He was sent. The word "world" here cannot possibly mean all mankind; for the Holy Ghost is not sent to all mankind, neither is all mankind convicted of sin or convinced of salvation,--the great majority of the human family being unconvicted and unconvinced of these things; but the Gentile portion of God's people. Our common sense would lead us to this interpretation; Dean Alford confirms it, for he says, the word "world" in John includes those who are not yet delivered from the power of Satan unto God, but who are yet to be delivered..
Well, the Holy Ghost's office in the work of salvation is here clearly set forth:--
First. He is to convict of sin.
Second. Secondly. He is to convince of righteousness.
Third. He is to convince of judgment.
Let me say a word or two on each of these heads.
First, Verse 9. Before a man is operated upon by the Holy Ghost, he does not know what sin is, what righteousness is, or what judgment is. Every man's conscience has some glimmering of light on these things, some consciousness of guilt, some sense of right, and some sense of a judgment to come; but all this is unreal and impractical till the Spirit of God works upon the man. But, when the Spirit of truth comes, He convicts of sin; and the root or essence of sin is unbelief in Christ. "They believe not on me." There is much in this little sentence. No man can really and scripturally and savingly believe in Christ who does not know himself to be a lost and undone sinner. He may believe in Christ as a great Being, as a wondrous Being, or as a benevolent Being; but believe in Him as a Saviour he cannot, till the Spirit convicts him of sin. But once let the Spirit of God convict a man as a malefactor and a guilty ruined wretch, then he will be ready heartily to believe in Christ as Saviour. O convicted sinner, convinced sinner, self-condemned sinner, bless God for your convictions! It was the Holy Spirit that has made you thus. But why suppose the Holy Spirit to stop here? Alas! you would be worse off than you were, for you were happy in your ignorance. But He does not stop here. He goes on.
Secondly. Verse 10. This conviction is twofold: 1. Conviction of want of righteousness. 2. A conviction of the existence of a righteousness that can make the sinner righteous before God. Ay, though we see Him no more, we are convinced by the Spirit that He stands at the right hand of God as the accepted righteousness for His people, even the Lord Jesus Christ, the righteousness of God. Our righteousness is worthless, as filthy rags; but the Lord's righteousness is perfect, pure, and glorious, and manifested in our hearts by the Spirit to be our only righteousness before God. 3. The Spirit is to convince of judgment.
Thirdly. Verse 11. There is an obscurity about this verse that I must try and remove. Several meanings have been given of this verse; I will only trouble you with two, and leave the solution of the difficulty in the Lord's hands.
1. The ordinary interpretation of judgment here is, that it is the judgment to come, and that the Spirit convinces men of the reality of that judgment, but shows them that the prince of this world is already judged, and condemned to everlasting punishment, but that all who believe in Christ will be adjudged righteous through His righteousness.
2. The other interpretation makes the word "judgment" mean estimate, or discrimination of things, and that the Lord alludes to the world's estimate or discrimination of things, and to God's estimate or discrimination of things. So that the meaning will be this, When the Spirit of truth comes upon a man, He will convince him of the wrong judgment he used to form by nature, and will show him that all that while he was under the influence of the prince of this world. But now he is given a better judgment, by which he shall not be ignorant of Satan's devices, and be convinced that the prince of this world and his victims will be finally condemned in the judgment hereafter.
The great convincing work of the Spirit is to bring a man out of himself into Christ. Have we been wrought upon by this Spirit? If so, we can fully understand why the Lord called Him "the Comforter." (1) For what greater comfort can our souls enjoy than the privileges consequent upon belief in Christ as our Atoner and Intercessor, our Righteousness, Sanctification, and Redemption? (2) What greater comfort can we enjoy than that derivable from a belief in the perfect righteousness of our Substitute, whose precious blood and sacrifice has blotted out our most aggravated guilt? (3) What greater comfort can there be than from the conviction that our judgment is thoroughly rectified, "Old things have passed away, and all things have become new;" (2 Cor. 5:17) or that, if we are to stand in the judgment to come, we shall stand in Christ, and consequently be free from all condemnation? (Rom. 8:1)
"And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him: but ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you." (John 14:16,17)
As we were reminded this morning, it was at this season of the year that the Holy Spirit manifestly and miraculously descended upon the original apostles. But it is an awful fact that the majority of professing Christians are completely ignorant of the existence of the Holy Ghost, and very many who make more than an ordinary profession of religion never speak of Him. His name is but seldom mentioned. Sermons are common enough, but many are they without a single allusion to the Holy Spirit. We hear enough of man's spirit, but little or nothing of God's Spirit. We hear much of man's free-will, but little or nothing of that mighty Spirit which alone can savingly operate upon that will. Again, when allusion is made to the Spirit of God, we often find Him associated with gross delusion, or subjected to the grossest dishonor. Animal excitement is often taken for the Spirit's operations, and effectual resistance to His mighty power is often openly asserted to be a common possibility. To me this is very shocking. It is shocking because it is taking awful liberties with God, and it is deluding souls into the bargain. It is shocking because it dishonors God, by representing His power to be inferior to that of His fallen creatures, and attempts to rob the children of God of one of their greatest comforts. Oh, may the Lord keep us from making these terrible mistakes! First, I would explain the text; secondly, speak upon the Spirit's operations in their mode and effects; and, thirdly, offer a word of improvement.
I. "And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him: but ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you." These are some of the last words of our dear Lord. He was about to leave His disciples. The hour was rapidly approaching when they were to be forcibly deprived of His gracious presence, His personal counsel, and instructions. He Himself had been their Comforter. "But I am going away," said He; "however, I will take care that you are not left comfortless; I will send another to you." The term Comforter hardly expresses the meaning of the original. It might have been rendered Monitor or Counselor. The poor disciples needed something more than comfort; they needed teaching, advice, support, and guidance, as well as comfort: and so we find the Spirit of God was all these to them. The Spirit, then, was to teach, guide, support, and comfort them. He was, further, to remain with them always: not to come and be with them for a few short years, as Christ Himself had been, but to abide with them for ever; (ver. 16) not merely either to be a Monitor separated or independent, but One who was to take up His abode in them.
Verse 17. And mark you that He says of "the world" here: "The world cannot." Now, where is this free-will that we so often hear of, or that power in the possession of every man, and consequently of "the world" at large, which enables to receive the chiefest good? "You can get the Spirit at any time," says the free-willer. "The world cannot receive Him," says Christ. Which are we to believe? O my hearers, I warn you again and again against the unscripturalness and the audacity of free-will. It requires nothing short of the mighty power of God to convict any member of the world of sin; and no man upon earth could ever receive the Holy Ghost except he were overcome by God's power. But are we not told to ask for the Holy Spirit, and we shall have Him? In reply, I want to be informed how can the world or a member of the world ask for that which it cannot receive or does not know? Or how can a member of the world or a natural man (they are one and the same) ask for that which it hates? "The natural man cannot receive the things that be of the Spirit of God." (1 Cor. 2:14) And "the carnal mind" (the natural or worldly mind) "is enmity against God." (Rom. 8:7) And how can such ask for the Holy Spirit? Impossible! But the meaning of the exhortation to "ask for the Holy Spirit" is for Christ's disciples to ask for Him more abundantly, and they shall have Him.
But to come back to the sweet assurance of the text. Whatever Christ said or promised to the original disciples, He has said or promised to us (if we are His); for they were the representatives of His Church at large. The children of God are often at their wits' end, involved in doubt and darkness and suspicion. They forget for the moment that they have a Comforter, a Monitor at their hand, close by, in them, who is sufficient for all emergencies. Cheer up, fellow pilgrims. Try and lean upon the arm of your Lord; you never glorify Him more than when utterly despairing of ever reaching heaven, except He shall bring you there.
II. Speak upon the Spirit's operations in their mode and effects.--Many are the errors of poor ignorant men in connection with this subject. Some confound the spirit of man with the Spirit of God. The 16th verse of Romans 8, is one of the most decisive passages against the supposition of the identity of the Spirit of God and the spirit of man. Others confound the mere animal spirits with the Spirit of God. The entire Scriptures are against the supposition that the Holy Spirit works with noise or tumult or excitement. First. When Christ illustrated the sovereignty of God in regeneration, He said, "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth." (John 3:8) He evidently alluded not to a strong wind, for we all know whence it cometh, and whither it goeth, but to a gentle summer breeze that is heard sometimes rustling in the leaves above us. Secondly. When the Lord appeared to Elijah (1 Kings 19) it was not in the storm, or in the earthquake, or in the fire, but in the still, small voice. Thirdly. When Paul describes the working of the Holy Spirit within us, he describes it not as enthusiasm or boisterous zeal, but as "unutterable aspirations." (Rom. 8:26) In short, nowhere in the Bible do we find any warrant for the belief that the Spirit of God works "with observation." No: His work is quietly, unobservedly, noiselessly done; and no man can possibly know that it has been done in him, except by the results. Tell me where in the whole Bible is it said that the Holy Spirit tells a man by some miraculous voice, vision, or dream that his sins are forgiven? Nowhere. Be assured that the "witness of the Spirit" is a matter of inference, and not of direct revelation. I, for one, have no faith in excitement. I have no faith in what is called popular preaching. I have no faith in any of the human efforts so common now to force religion upon the masses. It is the pure and simple word, preached in all plainness of speech, that God employs for the conversion of His people. This is brought home to the heart by the Spirit of truth; and the consequence is conversion, sanctification, and comfort.
As I have said, the Spirit of God works noiselessly, but effectually, and I have not the shadow of a doubt but that He has been, and is, working upon many who can give no clear testimony as to the time of their call, or the exact way in which they were converted.
III. And now for a word of improvement.--I think that any of us may readily know whether we have been the subjects of the Comforter's visits. The Scriptures are clear upon the point, if we have a discovering eye. For instance, we are told that,--First. He "takes of the things of Christ, and shews them unto His people." (John 16:14,15) Have we been shown the things of Christ, His redemption, His justification, His sanctification, His blood, His sufferings, His atonement, His righteousness, His substitution? Have these things been made so plain to us, that we can heartily acquiesce in them, in our need of them, just as heartily as we can acknowledge any common truth that is demonstrated to us? Then the Holy Ghost has been with us. Secondly. Again, we read that as many as be sons of God are led by the Spirit. (Rom. 8:14) Have we been thus led? Where, think you, would the Spirit lead us? Not surely to our own works, or our own merits, or our own righteousness, but to Christ's work and merit and righteousness. Have we been thus led? When we have been under the Spirit's teaching, guiding, and comforting. Thirdly. In short, the Spirit witnesses Himself to our spirits whenever He stirs us up to prayer--whenever He draws us to works of love--whenever He reproves us for our sins--whenever He enables us to bear testimony to God's word, or whenever He induces us to mortify our members for His honor and glory.
Now the question is between yourselves and God; may He enable you to give a faithful verdict!