Regeneration is the first work necessary for the Holy Spirit to do in the souls of sinners, in order to their conversion (see John 3.5-8). Only those who are born again will 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.
The Lord Jesus Christ reveals the Holy Spirit to be “the Comforter.”1 The Holy Spirit’s work is a spiritual work in those to whom he is sent. This name Comforter explains the mission of the Holy Spirit: “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me” (John 15.26).
Why is the New Testament Greek word παράκλητος here translated Comforter in the English Bible translation, the Authorised (King James) Version? The word Comfort comes from the Latin cum (with) fortis (stong). The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, comes to be with the Lord’s people as their strong helper to strengthen them. In this strengthening, the Spirit’s first regenerates us. This new birth is manifested outwardly in our conversion in both its principal parts: we are enabled to repent of our sins and to walk God’s in ways in the Christian life. This regeneration is necessary before the Holy Spirit’s testimony of Christ (John 15.26) will be believed by us. Or, it may be better to say it this way: the Spirit of Truth’s testimony in our souls involves that effectual calling2 of irresistible grace in us.
In the first work in the soul of someone who becomes a Christian, namely regeneration, the comfort that the Holy Spirit brings is his internal testimony to Christ, and to all that Christ is and has done for the person into whom this Comforter comes. “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).
Christ also informs us that the Holy Spirit is “another Comforter,” whom he will ask the Father to send after he himself had ascended: “If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter…” (John 14.15-16).3 For the Lord Jesus Christ himself is our first Comforter.4 The Spirit will be a Comforter to them even as the Lord himself had been.
This ministry of comfort will never cease in the souls of the Lord’s people, because he will “abide with you forever”—“for I will not leave you comfortless,” Jesus assured his disciples (see John 14.16-18). This is why the Holy Spirit’s ministry is still being 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 reprove5 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).
This “world” to whom the Holy Spirit is sent is composed of God’s chosen people, both Jews and gentiles; whereas the non-elect world “cannot receive” him (compare John 14.17). The Holy Spirit’s ministry to reprove is a ministry that inevitably brings comfort to those who are reproved.
Here we will consider the Holy Spirit’s threefold comforting ministry:
Firstly, People who receive the Holy Spirit’s reproof of sin before God will begin to fear the justly deserved condemnation to Hell that they stand under. This real fear will be theirs because “they believe not on” Christ—not yet.
If they knew the Lord’s salvation, then they would know no such condemnation, because “There is…now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8.1). But at this earlier time-point 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, with all seriousness and with increasingly great distress, “Woe is me, for I am undone!” (compare Isaiah 6.5). Whether they are brought to tears, or to fall on their face before God, or to their knees, or whether they keep this cry inward—this is their greatest concern of their heart.
Secondly, The Holy Spirit then reproves newly regenerated souls “of righteousness”6—that is, of the righteousness of God, and therefore of his justice against the unrighteousness of fallen mankind, and against themselves in particular. The Holy Spirit reproves them for their unrighteousness. They have no righteousness of their own, for “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3.10). The Holy Spirit makes them understand that all their so-called “righteousnesses” (so-called good deeds) are, as it were, “filthy rags” in the sight of God (Isaiah 64.6).
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—of Christ, and he enables them to believe in him.
Thirdly, Jesus said that the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, will also reprove 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). Not that the Devil is the real God or Prince of this world, but be became served and worshipped as though he were the prince and ruler of this world when Adam started 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), thereby transferring his allegiance from God to Satan. Even now the Devil falsely reigns as the deceiver of the whole world (Revelation 12.9).
If God has judged the pretended, evil prince of this world, then he shall certainly judge all people who likewise reject God. Satan is evil, and therefore he is worthy of condemnation to Hell by the true God, who is the righteous Judge of all the earth, who shall do right (Genesis 18.25). And the elect will likewise come to admit that they themselves deserve the same condemnation to Hell.
But then the Holy Spirit comfortingly teaches the elect how, at the cross, Jesus Christ triumphed over Satan and all his works—and how, by this sacrifice, 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 (John 12.31; 14.30; 16.11). The apostle Paul repeats this doctrine (Colossians 2.14-15).
The word “Comforter” here translates the New Testament Greek word παράκλητος (paracletos), meaning someone who comes alongside another to provide them physical or legal assistance (Strong’s Concordance, Greek Dictionary, number 3875). ↩︎
It cannot be construed from Christ’s statement, that he would send the Holy Spirit as a reward or award for achievement to those who love Christ and keep his commandments. For then the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, would not be given to any Christian during their earthly lifetime! 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 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). ↩︎
The apostle John called Christ our παράκλητος (paracletos) when he wrote in his first epistle, where we hav the word translated as advocate: “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2.1-2). ↩︎
The New Testament Greek word translated reprove here means to expose a person’s faults, and so convince, convict, reprimand and chasten them (i.e. chastise in order to correct them) (Strong’s Concordance, Greek Dictionary, number 1651). ↩︎
Our English words righteous (from old English) and just (from old French) translate the same Greek word δίκαιος (dikaios). Their meaning is the same: these words have to do with what is morally right. Similarly, δικαιοσύνη (dikaiosune) can be translated as righteousness or justness (Strong’s Concordance, Greek Dictionary, word 1343). ↩︎