His Coming. His Personality. His Activities.
"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 16:26.
By J. T. Mawson.
It is important to see that the coming of the Lord Jesus into this world introduced an entirely new era in the ways of God with men, and that this new era is marked by the presence of the Holy Ghost in a way that was never known before. In Old Testament days the Spirit of God visited the earth and energized men for certain great exploits, or moved them to write the Holy Scriptures, but He never dwelt here as He does now. John 7:39 will be sufficient to prove this.
"But this spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive: for the Holy Spirit was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified."
Mark what is here stated. Believers on Jesus were to receive the Spirit; but for this they had to wait until Jesus was glorified, and He could not be glorified until His death and resurrection were accomplished. The order of events was as follows:
1. The Incarnation of the Eternal Word, the only begotten Son of God (John 1:14, 18), for the declaration of what God is.
2. The death of Jesus, by which the love of God has been fully revealed and sinners redeemed (1 John 4:9, 10).
3. The resurrection of Jesus, the signal proof of the completeness of the work of redemption and God's seal upon that work.
4. His ascension to the right hand of God; the undeniable evidence of God's perfect delight in Him and in the work that He had finished.
5. The descent of the Holy Ghost; to gather men out of this world and unite them to Christ, so that He may have His church for Himself and reap the full harvest of His travail and death.
The two great facts of this present period are that the MAN CHRIST JESUS sits on the throne of God in heaven, and that GOD THE HOLY GHOST dwells in men on the earth.
THE COMING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.
The Lord Jesus often talked with His disciples about His death and resurrection, but they always failed to understand Him; they expected to see Him sit upon the throne of David and make Israel glorious in the earth. So that when He allowed men to put Him upon the cross, and died without resisting their violence, these poor disciples were dismayed and heart-broken. They thought that the Lord had been utterly defeated and that His mission was a complete failure and that all their hopes were for ever blasted. But just as the rising of the sun at morn flings back the gloom of night, so the resurrection dispelled the darkness into which the death of Jesus had plunged them; their doubts and misgivings vanished when they saw the Lord, and they knew that what they thought was defeat was glorious victory. As He instructed them in things concerning Himself from the Old Testament writings (Luke 24) they must have realized the blessed fact that He had gained more glory upon the cross than He could have done had He taken the throne, and that only by that death of suffering and shame could God's purpose of blessing be brought about in the midst of the children of men.
It is scarcely needful to call evidence as to the Lord's resurrection, but as the coming of the Holy Ghost was entirely dependent upon it, it will be well to note that He was seen and handled and heard by many of His disciples on many occasions after He rose from the dead. They had looked into His grave, and found it empty, they had handled Him and found that He had a body of flesh and bone, which no spirit has; they saw in His body the wounds which were made at the cross, and never afterwards did they doubt the fact of His glorious bodily resurrection; it became the central fact of their testimony. To deny this is to attempt to overthrow Christianity, for it is written: — "And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins" (1 Cor. 15:17).
If Christ is not raised, it is proved that He was unequal to the task which He undertook, that our sins were too many, and death too strong for Him, that God Himself has been defeated, and that the devil has gained a supreme and final victory. If Christ is not raised the work of redemption is not accomplished, and consequently the presence of the Holy Ghost in men is an absolute impossibility, for He can only dwell in those who are redeemed.
But now is Christ risen from the dead, and in that resurrection we see the mighty triumph of God, and the irrefutable pledge of blessing for men.
It was on one of the occasions on which the Lord revealed Himself to His disciples after His resurrection that He spoke very definitely to them as to the coming of the Holy Ghost.
In Luke 24:49, it is recorded that He said —
"And, behold, I send the promise of My Father upon you: but tarry ye in Jerusalem until ye be endued with power from on high."
And Luke, who also wrote the Acts, tells us in the 1st chapter, 8th and 9th verses of that Book, that He also said —
"But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
"And when He had spoken these things, while they beheld, He was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight."
Now these disciples, believing the word of the Lord implicitly, abode together in Jerusalem, and continued in one accord in prayer and supplication, awaiting the fulfilment of the Lord's promise.
They had grasped the fact that they were to represent the Lord during His absence and to spread the fame of His mighty victory; they were evidently also conscious of their own inability for this great work, and so they waited in earnest supplication upon the Lord for the coming of Him by whom they were to receive power, that in His strength they might go forth and bring men as captives to the feet of Jesus.
Turning to Acts 2, we find there the account of the coming of the Spirit.
"And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
"And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance."
Peter explains all this to the multitude that gathered together, in verse 32.
"This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.
"Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, He hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear."
This is the account of the actual coming of the Holy Ghost to take up His dwelling place upon earth, and He remains with us to-day. His presence has never been withdrawn.
THE PERSONALITY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.
Before dealing with the mission and activities of the Holy Ghost on earth, let us see what the Bible says as to His Person. We often hear Him spoken of as an influence, or a power, but this is certainly not the teaching of Scripture. It is true that He exercises an influence, and is the power by which God operates in the souls of men, but He is a Person, and not only a Person, but the third Person in the Godhead — the Holy Ghost.
In Matthew 28:19 we read —
"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,"
The Holy Ghost is co-equal with the Father and the Son.
THE FATHER is the source of love and life, the spring of all good and blessing for men.
THE SON is the perfect expression of the Father, the Revealer of all this good and blessing to men.
THE HOLY GHOST is the One who, by His power and wisdom, interprets that which has been revealed, and makes the revelation a reality in men.
The three Persons in the Ever-blessed Godhead work together for the salvation of men, and if we keep in mind the three prepositions "for," "to," and "in" in this connection, they will help us to understand the relative position of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in the carrying out of this gracious purpose.
THE ACTIVITIES OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.
We will now turn to John 3:3.
"Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto Him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter a second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."
Two things stand out clearly in this statement. (1) The badness of men by nature. (2) The goodness of God in undertaking to make a new start in them for their blessing. "Ye must be born again." This is an absolute necessity, and this statement gives the lie direct to the vaunting boast that good dwells in every man and merely requires development.
Let us note the fact that these words were not spoken to an outwardly gross and vicious man. Nicodemus was a model for his fellows, upright and correct in his conduct, but with startling clearness the truth is set before even him: flesh is flesh, there must be a new start. "Ye must be born again."
We are told that what humanity needs is to be cultured, educated, religionized; that men ought to be placed in better environment, their standard of life raised. It is argued that a change from the slums to garden cities, that suitable recreations and the like, will bring them up to the platform that will make them satisfactory to themselves and their fellows, and pleasing to God. Well, I for one would like to see all slums disappear, and the lot of man made easier; the miseries and hardships of multitudes can give no pleasure to the Christian; but these things are the foul brood that sin has begotten in the world. Man has a fallen sinful nature, and to make him more comfortable in this world and to change his environment will not change that. We must not lose sight of the fact that the fall took place amid the most beautiful surroundings that human eyes have seen on earth, and that the foulest crime that ever stained the sad annals of humanity was perpetrated in a garden. It was in a garden that the traitor kiss was put upon the cheek of Jesus, and the man who did that dastard deed had been in company with Him for three years. He had been taught, and fed, and protected by Him, and in spite of these circumstances and conditions, the best that man could have, his heart remained unchanged. And the truth must be told, though it may hurt us to hear it, the heart of Judas was but a sample of yours and mine.
If you demand my authority for such an assertion, I will turn you back to Jeremiah 17:9.
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?"
Or further back still, to Genesis 6.
"And God saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually."
It is useless to plead that great progress has been made since those far-off days, for the Lord Jesus said
"That which is born of flesh is flesh." "Ye must be born again."
All are corrupt alike by nature, from the mansions of Mayfair to the hovels of Shoreditch; from the highest grade of society to its lowest dregs; flesh is flesh, and nothing but this absolutely new start which God's Spirit alone can produce, can make men acceptable to God. "Ye must be born again."
The truth as to the fall and the utter badness of the heart is not pleasant to the unregenerate man; it suits the pride of his heart better to believe that he has descended from the ape, and that the ape arrived through various stages of evolution from the lowliest form of life, for then he can reason that if he has made such wonderful progress, in the past, the future is big with possibilities. But, alas! it is the Edenic lie, "Ye shall be as gods," which he has believed. This is the will-o'-the-wisp that is leading him through the night of his ignorance, to the black doom of eternal despair. Happy is the man who accepts God's truth as to himself and owns that he is a fallen sinner, for then he is ready for the unfolding of God's great plan for his blessing.
On the side of God's goodness in this matter we have "the water and the Spirit." The water certainly is not baptism, it is that which cleanses — not the guilt of a man, the blood does that — but which gives him a new and clean nature; it is the truth of God applied to his heart, which produces repentance in him, and makes him turn from his evil way to God. It makes him hate the sins which once he loved, and long after those things in which he once found no pleasure. In short, it is the introduction of an entirely new nature, not produced by the will of man, but by the word of God which liveth and abideth for ever. Psalm. 119:9 will be sufficient to prove this interpretation of the use of water.
"Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to Thy word."
And Ephesians 5:26 is even clearer still.
"That He might sanctify and cleanse it by the washing of water by the word."
And speaking to His disciples in John 15:3, the Lord said —
"Now are ye clean through the word which I have spoken unto you." The water is the word.
The truth of God is applied in convicting power by the Spirit of God to the consciences and hearts of men, for just as He moved upon the face of the waters in the days of creation, so He moves now upon the souls of men to bring form out of chaos, to make the light shine where the darkness has reigned, and to bring life out of death. He is the untiring Servant of God in this gracious work, and happy is the man who yields to His influence and power.
Having quickened the soul out of death, the Spirit of God turns the eye to Christ as the only hope and Saviour; and faith in Him settles the question of guilt for ever, for God, "is just, and the Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus." It is verily a glorious day for a man when he casts himself unreservedly upon the Lord Jesus Christ, for then a complete change of ownership takes place, he is no longer the slave of Satan, but he belongs to the Lord, and as a result receives the Spirit of God.
Two passages from the Epistles will make this clear. Eph. 1:13, 14.
"Christ, in whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise."
Also 1 Cor. 6:19.
"What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body."
In these two passages three important questions are answered.
1. Who are indwelt by the Spirit?
2. When are they indwelt?
3. Why are they indwelt?
"The immanence of God in humanity," is a favourite phrase in the mouths of some, and by it is meant that God dwells in, and manifests Himself through all men. But Scripture teaches the very opposite. Notice the Lord's own words in John 14:17.
"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."
How clearly the distinction is here made between the world of men and the believing "YOU." Those who are addressed in the verses quoted had "heard" and "believed the gospel of our salvation"; they are addressed as "saints," and "faithful in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 1). They are "sanctified in Christ Jesus" (1 Cor. 1:2) and are included in the "us who are saved," verse 18.
In 1 Cor. 2:14, we read —
"But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."
But nothing could be plainer than 1 Cor. 6:9, 10, 11.
"Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,
"Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God."
Now mark well the next verse.
"And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God."
These are they who were indwell by the Holy Ghost, their bodies had become the temples of God, but they had first to be washed, sanctified, and justified; in this way they were prepared for this wondrous indwelling.
"Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His" (Rom. 8:9).
The "When" of the indwelling is equally plain; it was "after that ye believed", or 'having believed' (N.T.) ye were sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise.
This is plainly illustrated by the case of Cornelius and his household in Acts 10:43, 44. For while Peter bore testimony to Christ in those blessed words: "To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His Name, whosoever believeth in Him shall receive the remission of sins," the Holy Ghost fell upon all who heard the word. Faith came by hearing, they believed the glad tidings, and were at once sealed by the Holy Ghost, as belonging to the Lord.
When a man thus believes the gospel, and surrenders himself to the Lord Jesus to-day, he become His property in deed and in truth, and receives the Spirit at once. When a farmer buys sheep in the market he puts his own mark upon them, he does not go about marking other men's sheep, but he stamps those that his own money has purchased. In like manner the good and great Shepherd marks off His own sheep by the indwelling of the Spirit.
Of equal importance is the "Why?" of the indwelling, and for this we must look at 1 Corinthians 6:19. It is here that the Lord's rights are emphasized. Are you a believer on the Lord Jesus Christ? Then you are God's property. "Ye are bought with a price," and the greatness of that price no mind can grasp, no tongue can tell. The love of Christ was so great, His desire to possess us so strong, that He endured the speechless pangs of Calvary and shed His precious blood. More than this He could not have done, and no lesser price would have availed.
Now every believer on the Lord Jesus Christ is the rightful property of God. A man has money to invest, and with it he purchases a row of houses; as soon as they pass into his possession, he advertises that the houses are "To let." He has purchased that property to let it out to others. But here is another man, who also purchases a house, but instead of advertising for tenants, he resides in it himself. Now judging by the conduct of some Christians we should be led to the conclusion that God had acted according to the former, for they have given much room within their hearts and lives to the world, the flesh, and countless other things. But the truth is that Christians have been chosen, purchased, and redeemed by God, that He might dwell in them Himself, and by the Holy Ghost He has taken possession of that which He has purchased. It is His will and His right to occupy us altogether. He would have us, spirit, soul and body, yielded up to His control. This is the "Why?" of the indwelling. He claims our bodies as His temples.
We will turn again to the Gospel of John, for the Spirit is mentioned more often in that Book than any other, except the Acts of the Apostles.
The reason for this is that a very full unfolding of Christianity is set before us in it. It will pay you well to search out all the times that the Lord uses the personal pronoun "My" in John. You will find it to be the characteristic word of the Gospel. He says, "My Father," "My Father's house," "My Father's name," "My joy," "My peace," "My glory," "My love," "My name," and so forth. From these blessed possessions He derived infinite joy, and true Christianity simply means that those who are His own — those whom He can call "My sheep," "My friends," "My brethren," — share these things with Him, for He gives not as the world, but shares all He possesses with His loved co-heirs. But these things cannot be understood and enjoyed apart from the Holy Ghost, hence the place He occupies in the Gospel.
In John 14:26 the Lord Jesus says —
"But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you."
"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."
"It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you. . . Howbeit when He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; . . . He shall glorify Me: for He shall receive of Mine, and shew it unto you."
Every word that fell from the lips of Jesus is of the utmost importance, and I would ask you to note particularly how He speaks of the Holy Ghost. He does not speak of Him as the Comforter merely, but "Another Comforter." That means, on the face of it, that He was to take the place of One who had already acted the part of Comforter. That One was Jesus Himself.
He had been their Teacher, Guide, Protector, and Friend. He had guarded them in danger, comforted them in sorrow, and made Himself altogether indispensable to them. Now it was expedient for them that He should go away, then the Holy Ghost would come and fill the Lord's place in all this wondrous activity of love.
And this brings before us in a vivid way the character of the Spirit of God. We are apt to dwell upon the fact of His holiness, and it is most necessary that we should, for He is the Holy Spirit of God; but do not let us forget His love and tenderness. We see in Jesus the embodiment of tenderness and love, for every beautiful grace dwelt in Him; but in all this He was the perfect expression of the character of God. Now the Holy Ghost is God, so that dwelling within us is One who, though intensely holy, is exactly in character what Jesus was when here on earth. He is with us as the Comforter. How shall we illustrate this blessed office?
Upon the curbstone yonder there stands a timid little girl; she must cross that crowded thoroughfare, but she is filled with fear at the sight of the whirling traffic. She dare not venture alone, and she looks about for guidance and help. Presently there comes along one whose face gives her confidence, and he, seeing her standing there, divines her need, and taking her small hand in his strong palm, he leads her safely through all the dangers and sends her on her way, light of heart and happy. He is a comforter. That is the place that the Holy Ghost takes with regard to us, and it will be with exceeding joy that He presents all the blood-washed ones at last to the One who bought them in the eternal glory of God. By Him they are kept through faith unto salvation.
But the Holy Spirit is not only here to guide and lead God's people through all the difficult ways in life: He is with them to minister constant comfort and joy to their hearts by unfolding the glories of Christ. If a beam of sunlight is allowed to shine through a transparent prism, it is decomposed into its constituent rays, and we are able to admire its glories in the red, green, blue, gold, and purple. Now the Bible is the prism through which the Holy Spirit makes the glory of Christ to shine, and as we are taught of Him, we are able to discern the golden ray of the divine glory of Jesus the blue ray of His heavenly character and grace — and the red ray of His suffering and death; and as we are engaged with the all-varied glories of Him who is so precious to us, we are comforted, helped, and greatly rejoiced.
The natural man cannot see or know these glories, it is the work of the Holy Spirit to reveal them to us, as is plainly stated, in 1 Corinthians 2. It is in this way that He turns the affections of God's people from the trifles of earth, and fixes them upon the glorious and ever blessed Man who sits at God's right hand.
OTHER RESULTS OF HIS COMING.
The Holy Ghost is also the Spirit of sonship. Those whom He indwells are the sons of God. This is plainly put in Paul's letter to the Galatians.
"For ye are all the sons of God by faith in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:26).
"And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father" (Gal. 4:6).
Suppose the King pardoned a poor criminal, lying under a death sentence, that he set him at liberty, and finally took him to the royal residence at Windsor. We can understand how grateful the man would be for His Majesty's clemency, but we can also see that he would be very uncomfortable in the palace, he would be more at home in the prison than there, for he has had no training for court life.
But if the King could give him the spirit of the Prince of Wales, everything would be changed, he would then be able to enter into the King's ways and thoughts, and he would be perfectly at home in the presence of his benefactor. Now what the King could never do, God has done. He has given the Spirit of His Son to all who have truly believed in Him. Apart from this they could not have been at home in the Father's presence, but since they have received the Spirit of His Son, they in measure are able to enter into the thoughts of the Father, they can appreciate and reciprocate His great love, and understand that they are placed in His sight in all the favour and love that belongs to His dear Son, and this will be their joy in heaven for ever.
Now mark well the character of God's love. It is so great that He will have us who are saved with Himself in heaven for ever. But He loves us so much that He will not keep us waiting until we get to heaven to enjoy it; He has given to us His Spirit, that the ineffable bliss of heaven might fill our hearts now.
Now it is evident that as the Lord alone could accomplish the work of redemption, so none but the Holy Ghost can give effect to that work in the souls of men. The work of God is beyond the power of men; the power of the Holy Ghost is alone competent for it.
The things of God are beyond the range of the wisdom of men; the wisdom of the Holy Ghost alone can search them out and reveal them to us, and no man can understand them apart from the teaching of God the Holy Ghost.
If this were understood, Christians would be delivered from reliance upon the strength and wisdom of nature, and become useful vessels in the hands of the Spirit. They would be satisfied with that which was from the beginning, and be able to detect and reject as spurious every doctrine that is not of God.
Thus far we have confined our thoughts to the individual aspect of the Holy Spirit's indwelling, but it is also most important for us to see that His presence on earth has bound all God's people into one compacted whole. This must be so if one Spirit dwells in all. Hence we read in 1 Cor. 12:12 — "For by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body."
Every one who has truly believed the gospel, which proclaims the forgiveness of sins to men, is indwelt by the Spirit, and by this same Spirit is united to Christ the glorified Head of the body, and every member thus united to Christ is necessary to all the rest. Each has his place in this wondrous unity, even as the members of a human body have each their place and function in the body in which they are placed. But space fails for further reference to this great aspect of the truth, but if you will prayerfully consider 1 Corinthians 12, where it is unfolded for us, you will be convinced of its importance.
Oh, that this truth may lay hold upon heart and conscience in these days of cliques, and sects, and divisions, and that all of us who love the Lord might have grace to depart from iniquity, and endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling.
"Grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.
"Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:
"And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you" (Eph. 4:30, 31, 32).