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 3:5-8). 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.
The Lord Jesus Christ reveals the Holy Spirit to be “the Comforter”1. This name explains the mission of the Spirit to those whom he is sent: “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). “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 say that the Holy Spirit is “another Comforter”, whom he will ask the Father to send after he himself had ascended2. 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 composed of God’s chosen people; whereas the fallen, non-elect world “cannot receive” the Spirit of Truth (John 14:17).
The Holy Spirit’s ministry to reprove is a ministry that inevitably brings comfort to those who are reproved.
Reproved of sin
Those people who recieve the Holy Spirit 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, 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 inwardly, in all seriousness and with increasingly great distress, “Woe is me, for I am undone!” (compare Isaiah 6:5). This is their greatest concern, and they may cry this outwardly too.
Reproved of righteousness
The Holy Spirit then reproves newly regenerated souls “of righteousness”4—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—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).
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.
Reproved of judgment
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). 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).
If God has judged the prince of this world, he shall certainly judge all those who reject 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 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).
- The word Comforter here translates the Greek word παράκλητος (paracletos), meaning one who comes alongside another to provide physical or legal assistance (Strong’s Concordance). The Holy Spirit’s work in those to whom he is sent is a spiritual work.↩
- 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 a reward or award for achievement to those who love him and keep his commandments. For then the Holy Spirit would not be given to anyone (see chapter 3, There Is None That Doeth Good. 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).↩
- The 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).↩
- 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). ↩