Reformed Spirituality

The Work of the Holy Spirit

By Simon PadburyFebruary 09, 2019
In Irresistible Grace7 min read
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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.
John 16:7.

Regeneration is the first work that is necessary for the Holy Spirit to do in the souls of sinners, in order to their conversion (see John 3:5-7). Only those who are born again repent of their sins before God and believe in the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. Without regeneration, there will be no true faith or repentance.

In the passage quoted above, Christ reveals the Holy Spirit’s name, character and mission in this world as that of “the Comforter1”—whom God the Father sends “unto you”, his elect people.

...When God accomplishes His good pleasure in the elect, or works in them true conversion, He not only causes the gospel to be externally preached to them, and powerfully illuminates their minds by His Holy Spirit, that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God; but by the efficacy of the same regenerating Spirit He pervades the inmost recesses of man; He opens the closed and softens the hardened heart, and circumcises that which was uncircumcised; infuses new qualities into the will, which, though heretofore dead, He quickens; from being evil, disobedient, and refractory, He renders it good, obedient, and pliable; actuates and strengthens it, that like a good tree, it may bring forth the fruits of good actions.
Canons of Dort, Heads 3 & 4 Article 11

Christ has previously identified the Holy Spirit as “another Comforter” whom he will ask the Father to send after he himself had ascended.2 The Spirit will be a Comforter to them as the Lord himself had been.

This ministry of comfort will never cease in the souls of the Lord’s people, as he will “abide with you forever”—“for I will not leave you comfortless”, Jesus assured his disciples (see John 14:16-18). Moreover, the Holy Spirit’s ministry still continues to be extended around the world even today, as the Church grows.

But what is this ministry of comfort?

Christ describes it as threefold: “And when he is come, he will reprove3 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” (John 16:8-11).

The “world” to whom the Holy Spirit is sent is comprised of God’s chosen people; whereas the fallen, non-elect world “cannot receive” him (John 14:17).

The Spirit’s ministry to reprove is a ministry that eventually brings comfort to those thus reproved.

Conviction Of Sins

Those people whom the Holy Spirit reproves and convicts “of their sins” before God will begin to fear the justly deserved condemnation to hell that they stand under. This real fear will be theirs because as yet “they believe not on” Christ.

If they knew the Lord’s salvation, then they would know no such condemnation, for “There is…now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). But at this time in their life they have not yet been brought to know and to believe in Christ their Saviour.

The Holy Spirit enables them to understand something of the trouble they deserve to be in: their awful predicament as sinners before the righteous God (e.g. Romans 10:5; Galatians 3:10,12). And this is why their quickened conscience stirs them up to cry, in all seriousness and with increasingly great distress, “Woe is me, for I am undone!” (compare Isaiah 6:5).

Conviction of God’s Righteousness

The Holy Spirit then convicts the newly regenerated soul “of righteousness.” They are thus reproved because they have no righteousness of their own. “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10).

The Holy Spirit makes them understand that all those so-called good deeds of theirs are, as it were, “filthy rags” in the sight of God (Isaiah 64:6). And he makes them know well that God is righteous, and therefore he must punish sinners (e.g. Daniel 9:4; Romans 2:5; Revelation 16:7)—or else God himself, in his mercy, must provide another way whereby he may remain just4 and yet be the justifier of whoever he will save from what they deserve for their sins (see Romans 3:26; 9:15,18; Ephesians 2:3).

The chief general use of Christian doctrine is, to convince a man of sin, and of righteousness, and of judg-ment (John 14:8) partly by the law or covenant of works, that he may be humbled and become penitent; and partly by the gospel or covenant of grace, that he may become an unfeigned believer in Jesus Christ, and be strengthened in his faith upon solid grounds and warrants, and give evidence of the truth of his faith by good fruits, and so be saved.

The sum of the covenant of works, or of the law, is this: “If thou do all that is commanded, and not fail in any point, thou shalt be saved: but if thou fail, thou shalt die” (Romans 10:5; Galatians 3:10,12).

The sum of the gospel, or covenant of grace and reconciliation, is this: “If thou flee from deserved wrath to the true Redeemer Jesus Christ, (who is able to save to the uttermost all that come to God through him,) thou shalt not perish, but have eternal life” (Romans 10:8,9,11).
David Dickson and James Durham, The Sum of Saving Knowledge.

The Holy Spirit reproves them for their unrighteousness—for all the moral wrongs they have done (i.e. sins, which are all against God’s moral law), and moral good they have left undone—in order to persuade them to turn to God in faith and repentance.

It is the Holy Spirit who makes them to cry out as the Philippian jailer did, “What must I do to be saved?”—and God, in his providence, sends the same Gospel to them as Paul preached to his jailer: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:30,31).

In Christ’s saying, “because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more” (John 16:10), he was referring to his forthcoming sacrificial death for his people (compare John 13:33). The Holy Spirit convinces them of the total moral perfection—the righteousness—the sinlessness of Christ, and he enables them to believe in him.

Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness

It is at this point of conversion, when a person comes to believe in Christ, they learn and understand that God accounts Christ’s righteousness as theirs.

“By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in [God’s] sight:…But now the righteousness of God without the law [i.e. without us having kept the law] is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe” (Romans 3:21,22).

God legally imputes the righteousness of Christ, which is the righteousness of God himself, to those who come to believe in him—in an analogous way to how the original sin of Adam was imputed to all for whom Adam stood in the original covenant of life.5

They are the Lord’s elect people, for whom he stood as their Covenant Representative Head. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). “For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17).

Notice that the Lord’s people actually receive this “abundance of grace and…gift of righteousness”, by which their lives are transformed. It is truly an abundance of irresistible grace!

“‭‭But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;‭ ‭‭Even the righteousness of God ‭which is‭ by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:‭ ‭‭For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;‭ ‭‭Being justified6 freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:‭ ‭‭Whom God hath set forth ‭to be‭ a propitiation7 through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;‭ ‭‭To declare, ‭I say‭, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:21-26).

“For he [God] hath made him [Christ] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). The Greek words here translated “that we might be made” imply no mere possibility of justification through Christ’s shed blood, but they teach that following the Lord’s particular redemption of his elect, their justification is inevitable. “But of him [God] are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

Conviction of God’s Judgment

Jesus said that the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, will also convict the elect throughout the world of judgment: “he will reprove the world…of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.”

The entity whom the Lord Jesus Christ here refers to as “prince of this world” is Satan (see Luke 4: 5-7; John 12:31; 14:30; Ephesians 2:2; compare “the god of this world,” 2 Corinthians 4:4; see also Job 1:6,7). He became served and even worshipped as the prince (or, ruler) of this world when Adam transferred his allegiance, as it were, from God to Satan through believing the serpent’s words rather than God’s words concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and of evil (Genesis 3:1-7; see also Revelation 12:9).

All who want nothing to do with the one true God are ultimately followers of Satan, not God.

It cannot be seriously doubted that Satan is evil, and therefore worthy of condemnation to hell by God the righteous Judge of all the earth, who shall do right (Genesis 18:25). And the elect will likewise be caused to admit that they themselves must fully deserve condemnation to the same hell too!

But then the Holy Spirit comfortingly teaches them how, at the cross, Jesus Christ triumphed over Satan and all his works—and thereby he delivers his people out of Satan’s dominion and doom. The Lord referred to his triumph three times, as recorded in John’s gospel (12:31; 14:30; 16:11). And the apostle Paul repeats this doctrine (Colossians 2:14,15).

As for convincing a man of sin, and righteousness, and judgment, by the gospel, or covenant of grace, he must understand three things:

1. That not believing in Jesus Christ, or refusing of the covenant of grace offered in him, is a greater and more dangerous sin than all other sins against the law; because the hearers of the gospel, not believing in Christ, do reject God’s mercy in Christ, the only way of freedom from sin and wrath, and will not yield to be reconciled to God. 2. Next, he must understand, that perfect remission of sin, and true righteousness, is to be had only by faith in Jesus; because God requireth no other conditions but faith; and testifies from heaven, that he is well pleased to justify sinners upon this condition. 3. He must understand, that upon righteousness received by faith, judgment shall follow, on the one hand, to the destroying of the works of the devil in the believer, and to the perfecting of the work of sanctification in him, with power: and that, upon refusing to take righteousness by faith in Jesus Christ, judgment shall follow, on the other hand, to the condemnation of the misbeliever, and destroying of him with Satan and his servants for ever.

For this end, let these passages of scripture, among many others, serve to make the greatness of the sin of not believing in Christ appear; or, to make the greatness of the sin of refusing of the covenant of grace offered to us, in the offering of Christ unto us appear, let the fair offer of grace be
 looked upon as it is made, Isaiah 40:3: “Incline your ear, and come unto me, (saith the Lord:) hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.” That is, If ye will believe me, and be reconciled to me, I will, by covenant, give unto you Christ, and all saving graces in him: repeated Acts 13:34.

Again, consider, that this general offer in substance is equivalent to a special offer made to every one in particular; as appeareth by the apostle’s making use of it, Acts 16:31: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” The reason of which offer is given, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Seeing then this great salvation is offered in the Lord Jesus, whosoever believeth not in him, but looks for happiness some other way, what doth he else but “observe lying vanities, and forsake his own mercy,” which he might have had in Christ? Jonah 2:8,9. What doth he else but blaspheme God in his heart? as it is said, 1 John 5:10,11: “He that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life; and this life is in his Son.” And that no sin against the law is like unto this sin, Christ testifies, John 15:22: “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloak for their sin.” This may convince a man of the greatness of this sin of not believing in Christ.

David Dickson and James Durham, The Sum of Saving Knowledge.

Chapter 14 of God’s Grace In Our Experience.

To be continued.

  1. The word Comforter here translates the Greek word παράκλητος‭ (paracletos): one who comes alongside another to provide physical or legal assistance. The Holy Spirit’s work in those to whom he is sent is spiritual.
  2. In John 14:15,16 Christ says: “If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter…” It cannot be construed from this that after his ascension, Christ prayed for the Holy Spirit to be sent as an award to those who love him and keep his commandments. For then the Holy Spirit would not be given to anyone (see Chapter 3, Man’s Enmity Against God). But we who love God do so because he first loved us; and it is by God having given to us the Holy Spirit that we have our close communion with him (see 1 John 4:9-10,13,19). The Holy Spirit within us is the cause of our love and obedience to God—not the other way around (see Romans 8:1-4).
  3. The Greek word translated reprove here means to expose a person’s faults, and so convince, convict, reprimand and chasten them.
  4. Our English words righteous and just (as used here) translate the same Greek word δίκαιος‭ (dikaios). Their meaning is the same. Similarly, δικαιοσύνη‭ (dikaiosune) can be translated as righteousness or justness. These words have to do with what is morally right.
  5. See Chapter 1 at the section, The Covenant of Life Was Broken.
  6. Another word related to just and righteous, justified translates the Greek word δικαιόω‭ (dikaioo) which means to be (legally) declared as righteous/just, and therefore exonerated or freed from the sentence against their sin (their unrighteousness).
  7. Propitiation translates the Greek word ἱλαστήριον‭ (hilasterion) which means appeasing or placating one who has been wronged (in this case, God, whom all our sins are ultimately against). The same word is translated as “mercyseat” in Hebrews 5:1, referring to the cover of the ark of the covenant in the Tabernacle’s (later, Temple’s) Holy of Holies, which was sprinkled with the blood of the sacrificed animals on the annual day of atonement (See Lev 16:8-34; 23:27-32).

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