The Holy Spirit
From Notes of Addresses
His Passive Witness (John 16:7-11)
It was on the memorable night of our Lord’s betrayal, and during that close and loving “upper room” conversation He had with His beloved disciples, that He cheered their hearts with two very wonderful promises. One He spoke of as the promise of His Father. He promised that, though He was going away, there should come another Comforter and He should abide with them for ever. After three and a half years of His sweet company, they had now to say farewell to Him: but when the Comforter should come, there would be no saying good-bye; He would abide with them for ever.
The original word, paraclete, translated by our word “Comforter,” might with equal correctness be translated “Advocate.” An advocate is one who stands by your side and supports you. Up to that time He had done this with those beloved men: now He says, I am going to send Another to stand-by your side, and He shall be your comfort and stay and support.
Beside that, there was a second promise He made, and that was to comfort their sorrowing hearts in view of His departure. He says, “I will come again and receive you unto Myself.” Thus He made two promises under those solemn circumstances, in order to comfort their sad hearts. One, that there should come down no less a person than God the Holy Ghost, to be their Comforter; and the other that He Himself was to come again. The first of those promises was fulfilled within eight weeks of His making it. The fulfilment of the second, we are still waiting for, but the one is as certain of its fulfilment as the other.
In the verses I have read in John 16, you have the Lord speaking of that moment. It was expedient for them He should go away. We can hardly understand that. We should have thought it would be much better if He had remained with them; but no! Another could not come until He had gone. You see from that there can be no such thing as the Holy Ghost being on earth until Christ had gone to Heaven. So in John 7, it says, “The Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.” He connects distinctly the coming of the Holy Ghost into this world with His ascension to heavenly glory. It was not until He took His seat there that the Holy Ghost came.
The Holy Ghost had acted from heaven upon individuals on earth before that. Peter tells us in his second epistle, that holy men of God had spoken as they had been moved by the Spirit. That is one thing. But for the Holy Spirit to be here personally is another; and if you were to ask me to give you in a short sentence the great distinguishing feature of the present dispensation in contrast with any other, I should say it was the personal presence of the Holy Ghost on earth. That is the thing that marks Christianity off from all other dispensations.
If it was an important event in this world when God the Son came into it, if it was a very great privilege that day, think you it is any less a privilege in this day when God the Holy Ghost comes into this world? Has it ever dawned upon you that this world is the scene of the visit of two divine Persons? One has been here, fulfilled His mission, and gone. The other has come, is fulfilling His mission and is about to go. The first of those Persons I refer to is often spoken of as “the second person of the Trinity,” God the Son. The other, is God the Holy Ghost.
I think we need to utter a word of warning just here. It is a faulty expression, but we all generally understand the meaning of it, when we speak of the First, Second and Third Persons of the Trinity. It might lead some to think that the Second Person was an inferior Person to the First, and the Third was an inferior Person still to the Second. No! that would be a mistake. No such thought must occupy your mind as that. That is not the force of the expression, commonly used though not found in the Bible—the Three Persons of the Trinity. We simply say that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. It is God, the Father; God, the Son; and God, the Holy Ghost. I need not tell you the latter two are being pretty widely denied at the present time. They will admit that Jesus was a Son of God, but in the next breath tell you, so are you. They will not admit He is God the Son, nor that the Holy Ghost is God; and even those who are prepared to admit the presence of the Holy Spirit, often think of Him as only a gracious and powerful influence in this world. But He is more than an influence. He exerts an influence, but the One who exerts an influence is more than the influence He exerts. There are not two persons and an influence in the Trinity, there are three persons in the Godhead, that Holy Trinity of God, the Father; God the Son; and God, the Holy Ghost. Outside that you are anti-Christian, I do not care what your name is. To deny those three things is to deny three vital truths of Christianity.
You may say, “Well I do not understand the Holy Ghost being a Person. I can understand Christ being a Person, He was a Man; we shall see Him and He can be heard and handled.” Let me speak just here very clearly. The Lord Jesus Christ did not become a Person in the Trinity when He became a Man. He was that before ever He became a Man. In that wonderful inscrutable mystery, divinity and humanity were brought together. He brought His divinity into His humanity, but He is still God over all blessed for evermore. And the Holy Ghost is God, equally with the Son. And I say, if it was a blessed, yet a solemn and serious thing for the world to receive a visit from God, the Son, it is equally serious and equally blessed that God, the Holy Ghost should come.
In our Sunday School days we were taught to appreciate the privilege of this world having received a visit from God the Son. We used to sing:—
“I think when I read that sweet story of old,
When Jesus was here among men,
How He called little children as lambs to His fold,
I should like to have been with Him then.”
Wouldn’t you like to have been here then? I would. I would have liked to have heard some of those expositions He gave to the sorrowing disciples, seen some of the wonderful things He did. Some men have journeyed thousands of miles just to tread where His feet have trod, and they can tell you all about Palestine and say it was a privilege to be found there, if that is a privilege, how serious a business it was for this world when He left. If it was a great privilege for the Holy Spirit to visit this earth (and it is a privilege: whether we are alive to it or not is another thing) don’t you think it will be an awfully solemn moment for this world when God the Holy Ghost leaves it? If I might use the figure of a dove, which is so often used in Scripture, I think I am not far away from the mark when I say, the Heavenly Dove is today pluming her wings to take her flight. The Holy Ghost is going to leave this world, as well as God the Son.
Pentecost was the day when the promise made in the upper room got its fulfilment. Ever since then God the Holy Ghost has been on earth, unseen by mortal eye, not incarnate, in bodily form, as was God the Son, but here verily. He has a mission in regard to this world. He is here first of all as a witness. We read of that in the end of the previous chapter. Here it tells us three things He has come to do. In the 8th verse, “When He is come He will reprove [or convict, or convince, as the margin says] 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.” That is the one side of His mission here as witness. His mission here is carried out in two forms. The one is passive, and the other active. This I believe is the passive side of His work.
We use the world conviction when a man has been convicted of his sins. That is, it has been borne in upon him, and if it is a divinely wrought conviction, it is always by the Holy Ghost. He has been brought to real deep sorrow and anguish and repentance about his sins. We are convicted of what is wrong. The word is hardly used in that sense in this connection, because it says the Holy Ghost has convicted the world of righteousness. We do not require to be convicted of what is right, we are convicted of what is wrong. I am only stating that to show you there is another way in which this word may be used.
This word translated “convict” is a difficult world to express accurately in English. It is more of a legal term, used in the law courts. It is the bringing forth of evidence that will convince certain people of the true character of the prisoner at the bar and of his actions, it is the presentation of evidence that brings conviction. You do not suppose that every prisoner that stands before Judge and Jury is convicted in his own heart. The witnesses go into the box and testify on their oath, but do they convince their man? Is that their business?
Not at all. They are bringing evidence forth to convince others about the real case of that man. Whom are they going to convince? Not the prisoner at the bar, but the men in the jury box. The result of that may be that the man is convicted of his crime; not that he is conscience-stricken about it, but that the witnesses have brought demonstration to those men in the jury box that certain things are true about the prisoner.
I use the figure reverently—Put the world into the prisoner’s dock, the Church of God into the jury box, and let the Holy Ghost enter the witness box. What is He doing? Bearing witness to those in the jury box, as to the true condition and state of the world. The world itself does not care anything about the presence of the Holy Ghost. It ignores His presence and is convinced of nothing. But He brings forth witness that demonstrates the true nature and character of the world on the three counts—sin, righteousness, judgment. And mark, it is not sinners, it is not individuals, it is the whole world. The Holy Ghost is here bearing witness to this world’s sin; and how is that? “Because they believe not on Me.” The crowning sin of this world is not drink, betting, gambling, murder or uncleanness, the crowning, damning sin of this world is the absolute refusal of Christ. This world stands charged with the rejection and refusal of Christ. Is any reader unconverted? You are hand in glove with the world that lies under that charge—“of sin because they believe not on Me.”
It is just as though the first question the Holy Ghost might raise when He come into the world is, “Where is Christ?” “He is not here.” “Where is He, for He was here?” “He is dead.” “How came He to die?” “We murdered Him, and He was buried in a borrowed sepulchre.” It means this world lies guilty of the death of the Lord Jesus. Just as God came on the scene in those early days and said “Cain, where is thy brother.” Do you think God is not going to raise the question with this world “What have you done with My Son?” I will tell you what they did with Him. They rejected Him saying “We will not have this Man to reign over us.” Think of that! Threw the love gift of God the Father back into His face and said, “We will not have Him!” Heaven said, “Then we will.” God has absolutely reversed everything this world has done. God and the world came into collision over the death of Christ, and the Holy Ghost’s presence here is a witness that Christ is risen, and the world condemned as sin.
What about righteousness? We have been looking at what is wrong. Sin is here, and that is patent because Christ was rejected by this world, not merely by wicked Jews. It was man’s heart that had no room or time for Him. Now we look for something good. It is no use looking here for righteousness. The only righteous One that ever trod this earth has been refused, not allowed to live more than thirty-three and a half years. If you want to see righteousness you will see it, not in what the world has done for Christ, but in what the Father has done for Him. He has been raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, and if you want an expression of righteousness, you will see it there. God says—You shall have your rights, My Son. He puts Him at His right hand, crowns Him with glory and honour.
Sin is here, and righteousness is not here. What about judgment? It is come. He says, the prince of this world is judged. Most who read the verse read it as though it said, “To convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment to come.” It does not say that. As the world stands in the dock that heavenly Witness is demonstrating three things, to those who have eyes to see, and hearts to feel, and faith to believe. Sin is here, and that is evident, because Christ has been rejected. Righteousness is not here, and the world is judged, already judged. The point is not the judgment is coming, but that the world lies under God’s judgment. The execution of it may be to come, but the world is a judged system, and if you get hold of that witness from the Spirit of God, it will stop you trying to improve it. The church is not here in order to improve the world. It is here for no such purpose. The fact is, it is unimproveable. The sentence has been passed, that the prince of this world is judged, and if the prince is judged, it is all over with the world. The prince of this world is Satan.
I was driving with a gentleman in his motor car only a few days ago and we passed a church building. He said, There has been a wedding here. I said, Who has been married? He said, I do not know. Well, how do you know there has been a wedding? I do not need any one to tell me that, all the confetti about the church gates tells the story. There was nothing active about that confetti. Its presence told its tale. The mere presence of the Holy Ghost on earth apart from His activities tells an awfully sad story. What is that? Sin is here, righteousness is not here, and the world is already doomed. According to the Lord’s own words, in John 3, “He that believeth on Him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already,” and this world is lying under the doom of judgment. Would to God, beloved Christians, our hearts were more touched by that. Do not let us be seeking to improve the world, let us be seeking to get some poor sinners out of it before the first thunder clap of God’s wrath is heard.
When the Lord Jesus Christ was rejected, and they shouted on earth, “Away with Him!” I think the language of Psalm 24, could have been uttered in Heaven. “Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.” When this world slammed its door in the face of Christ, heaven opened hers, and they have never been shut since, Praise God! People sing, “The gate stands ajar.” It never did, and never will. It was left wide open for the blessed Lord to enter, and it has been left open ever since. You could have understood twelve legion of angels coming down through those open doors and sweeping with destruction this guilty world. But not so: rather God the Holy Ghost came through those open doors, bringing the glad tidings of the grace of God: and ever since then the gospel bells have been ringing where the thunders of God’s judgment are going to be heard presently. But that is connected with His active work, whilst we have been considering what He does passively.
His Active Witness (Luke 14:16-24; 15:8-10)
Let us now consider the active side of the Holy Ghost’s presence and mission. You may have wondered why I read from Luke 14 and 15 in connection with such a subject. But His active work is brought before us here in a very striking though parabolic way.
The Lord being invited to a Pharisee’s house He noticed that every one was seeking the chief place, so He made the remark, “When thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.” Do not let it be a kind of complimentary feast that may be returned to you. Make it for needy people. And one of them that sat with Him said, “Blessed is He that shall eat bread in the Kingdom of God,” as much as to say, that kind of thing is more like heaven than earth, more like God than man. And the Lord then gives this parable to show that grace is not appreciated as you might think.
A certain man made a great supper, and when the supper was ready, he sent out a servant. Now there are three Persons in the Trinity, and you may find them in the parable, as in the next one in Luke 15. God the Father, to Him belongs the initiative, the origination of purpose and counsel. To God the Son belongs its administration, the carrying out of those purposes and counsels. To God the Holy Ghost belongs that all-pervading power that works in fellowship with both the Father in His purposes, and the Son in His activities. Only He works in the individual who becomes the subject of His activities, and so the Spirit’s work is called subjective. The Father designs this great supper. It was made ready at tremendous cost. It was a great supper because it had to meet a great need, and it was made at a very great cost. What was the cost? Who was the One to carry out that design? It was planned by God the Father; prepared and made ready by God the Son at His own personal cost, when He gave His precious blood to make the Gospel a righteous possibility; and proclaimed by God the Holy Ghost.
A supper is the last meal of the day. You have often heard that said in gospel preaching. In eastern countries, the final meal was the most important one. They could not eat a heavy meal in the middle of the day, they waited till the cool of the evening. In was not a complimentary feast, but a meal spread for needy people. It has been spread at great cost, and when everything was ready there came forth a Servant. God the Holy Ghost has come down to make the Gospel known, and here you find Him in the character of a Servant.
Did you ever notice the difference between Matthew 22 and Luke 14? In Luke 14 it is a Servant. In Matthew 22 it is servants. In Luke 14 every one the Servant brings in stops in, but in Matthew 22 there is one of the servants who brings in a man and he has to be thrown out. In the Servant in this parable it is God the Holy Ghost. Who are the servants then? Men, such as myself. You can easily deceive me and make me believe you are converted, when you are not, but you cannot deceive the Holy Ghost.
Here is the great Servant, and He brings the invitation and says, “Come.” That is the golden gospel message right through the Bible. In some of the big palatial residences they have what they call visiting days and allow you to see the luxury in which they live. They throw certain rooms open for public inspection and they have the green, the blue and the yellow rooms, the great dining hall, and the drawing rooms, and when they have shown you round, they bring you to a place and say, “This is the road out.” They do not want you. They do not mind you admiring their luxury, but they do not want you. That is the difference between Luke 14 and what they do. The door has been flung open and a way has been made by God the Son, and He has prepared this Gospel supper and God the Holy Ghost has come from heaven and says, “God wants you.”
Why is it the gospel supper? Because the gospel is God’s last provision for the need of sinful men. If you do not get a seat at that supper table, there is no second chance Christendom is getting its last chance. God has no more suppers. You may be sending your money to convert the swarthy-skinned African and the yellow Chinese, and I will tell you what they are doing. They are accepting the invitation and taking their seat at the supper table, and you may be missing it. What a serious consideration. The house is going to be filled. Take care is not filled without you. A flat-headed Hottentot may sit in the place you might have occupied. God has decreed it is to be filled, and the Holy Spirit is here to carry out that wonderful work. That is His active work; not satisfied with giving invitations, but compelling them to come in. His grace is rebuffed, they make excuses. There is a Trinity in the Godhead bent on blessing man, and there is a trinity of excuses to get out of the blessing. A terrible thing happens. God excuses them. Peter tells us the Holy Ghost brings the message down from heaven, and you have been making excuses to evade it. Look! If God puts one word against your name tonight, “excused” you are done for. There is no second blessing for you.
How does He compel people? I used to think it meant we had to compel people to come into the meetings. You know how hard that is. That it not what it means. It is not we who are doing the compelling but the Spirit of God. Do you know why I came to Christ? Because I could not stop away. It was the same love that spread the feast that sweetly forced me in, or I had perished in my sin If you want an expression of divine compulsion you will find it in Luke 15. The prodigal son came back to his Father. He started off thinking he was going to have a good time and do without his Father, but it ended in misery and he came back. It was not a sentimental reason, or a religious one that brought him back. He came back because he could not stop away. Compulsion had been at work. A famine was in the land and he came, being driven at the bayonet point of dire need. Want like an armed man came upon him and he was compelled to go home.
There was something else. At the other end of the line there was a little bit of knowledge he had of the grace of the Father. He thought there would be a little bit to spare for him, so that with what knowledge he had of love of his Father, and behind him the pressure of want, that prodigal son had been forced home. He was compelled because be was starved out, and that is what happens with most of us. John Bunyan wrote to the effect that, “No ship ever yet entered the harbour of free grace unless driven in by the storm, and no sinner ever came to Christ unless driven by sheer need and drawn by God’s grace.” What a good thing God did not take my ‘No’, as my final answer, but he went on pursuing me until I said, ‘I will yield, I can hold out no more.’ I was under compulsion. When the prodigal son came home he got all the wealth. He began to be in want in the far off land, but that want ended when he came to the Father’s house. That is the way the Spirit of God compels.
Now we come to Luke 15, the woman sweeping the house. Woman is constantly used in Scripture as a figure of the Church. She is called the Bride, the Lamb’s wife, and when the Lord wants to show the true behaviour of husband to wife, in Ephesians 5, He likens it to His own behaviour to His Church. So the woman is a figure of the Church, and in the Church the Holy Ghost is dwelling. It is the Holy Spirit using the Church of God to carry on the search when God the Son is gone. The Shepherd after the sheep is God the Son seeking for lost ones. He is gone, His work is finished, but the Holy Ghost is come down and the search is being carried on.
What happens? She is using instrumental means. She has a light. A candle is always a figure of testimony; and she has a brush. The brush is what we might call providential means. What is the brush for? To uncover. What is the light for? To discover. To what end? That she might recover. How does the brush work? In many ways.
I will tell you a little incident I very often tell in the gospel. A young wife got converted. at one of my meetings. Calling on her one day, I said “Is your husband converted?” “No, Charlie is not converted but he doesn’t think as he used to.” I said, “How used he to think?” “He used to think when we were dead we were done with.” Cheap infidelity! I said, “What has altered Charlie’s views?” She paused a bit and then swallowed a lump in her throat and said, “We had one little girl. She was the very darling of his heart, his very idol. One Saturday night I had washed her, and said to Charlie, Here she is, give her a goodnight kiss. After he had kissed her he said, ‘I hope we’re not making too much of you.’” Thursday afternoon you might have seen a procession from outside Charlie’s house and you could have followed it to Brighouse Cemetery, and a little casket held all that Charlie counted dear. She had gone. What happened? The sweeping brush had come into the house and swept the baby out to get at the Mother and Father. The brush had brought things to light. Then she said, “When the funeral was over, Charlie sat there and I sat here, and neither of us spoke for some time. At last I said, ‘Charlie, do you think our Alice is done with?’ And with some big sobs he said, ‘No, I hope we shall meet her again.’” What had happened? The sweeping brush had knocked a hole in the bottom of Charlie’s infidelity, and uncovered the need in the mother’s heart, and there was a conversion there soon after. I wish I could tell you of Charlie’s conversion, but at any rate he had lost his infidelity if he was not converted. Sometimes God smashes a man’s business to get at him. I saw a man in the hospital with his back broken, and he said God had to do that to get at his soul.
With regard to the piece of silver, the light falls on it and it is found. I think it is a little figure of repentance owning the truth of God about yourself. You say, O God, I own my guilt. What has happened? The light of God’s testimony against me, I have flashed back to Him in the form of repentance, owning the truth of God about myself.
The light strikes upon the silver coin, flashes back to the eye, and it is found. God uses means to bring us into the light in His own sovereign way, and the Spirit of God uses it, drops in a little bit of the Word of God, and the end is, there is joy in heaven over sinners repenting. That is the active side of the mission of the Holy Ghost. It is impossible for you to be in fellowship with the Holy Ghost without being evangelical. I defy you to put your hand into the hand of that great Servant, that great Missioner from heaven, God the Holy Ghost, the Servant of Luke 14, without going where He goes, and you will look for what He is looking for in the highways and byways. The worst of society may be found by the Holy Ghost. That is His mission on earth. May God grant that you and I may be kept in close fellowship with God the Holy Ghost on earth in the pursuit of this mission. He come down through the open door of heaven, bringing the gospel of forgive and salvation.
As long as the Church of God is here the Holy Spirit will be here, and as long as He is here the Gospel day will go on. Don’t you believe the lie that the Gospel day is over, it is nothing of the kind. The Holy Ghost is here and is working today, and may God give you and me grace to work in the fellowship of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. It is the Father who planned it, the Son who prepared it, the Holy Ghost who proclaims it. Father, Son and Holy Ghost rejoice together. He says, “It was meet that we should make merry and be glad.” May the Lord help us to be in the fellowship of the Holy Ghost.