What is the essential work of the Holy Spirit? Is he the Giver of Spiritual Gifts? The Aide to Sanctification? The Gentleman who introduces us to the Savior? He is sooooooo much more than this.
The following is the first paper for the class on the Holy Spirit I am presently taking at The North American Reformed Seminary. It was also the subject of our discussion at our monthly Mens’ Breakfast and Bible Study. You can listen to the audio of the lesson by clicking on the link below.
We Have Not Even Heard that there is a Holy Spirit.
Sometimes, as an heir of 20th Century, American, Fundamental Christianity I feel that I have been given an obstacle to understanding the Scriptures regarding many of its most important doctrines. Understanding the Holy Spirit is certainly in that category. Their reactionary response against opposing strains of thought and teaching, as well as embracing key theological errors of their time, so often obscures their ability to see clearly (though I am sure it has been their goal be biblical). Reformed Theology has gone a long way in correcting my incomplete and distorted view in many areas, but none I believe, so much as this one concerning the Holy Spirit (especially in His soteriological undertakings). It is mind-boggling to see what I once understood about the Nature and Work of the Third Person of the Trinity and what I have learned in reading Calvin, Owen and others, and now Arthur Pink in regard to Him.
Thomas Watson’s, A Body of Divinity describes Him in succinct terms as he teaches us, “The third person in the Trinity is the Holy Ghost, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, whose work is to illuminate the mind, and enkindle sacred motions. The essence of the Spirit is in heaven, and everywhere; but the influence of it is in the hearts of believers. This is that blessed Spirit who gives us the holy unction. 1 John 2:20. Though Christ merits grace for us, it is the Holy Ghost that works it in us. Though Christ makes the purchase, it is the Holy Ghost that makes the assurance, and seals us to the day of redemption.” (Pg. 110) This truly “fundamental” view of the Nature and Work of the Spirit is, in essential areas, so far from the basic idea of His simple empowering work that I was instructed in at the beginning of my walk with Christ. Sure, He was shown to me to be the Third Person of the Trinity and to be at work in me, gifting and empowering for service, but never was I given the idea that He was essential to my coming to faith in Christ.
Never was I informed by my pastor or teachers of the application of Christ’s merits to me through Him. His most important and eternal works were dismissed in favor of His more temporal effects of sanctification and gifting for service. I do not want to diminish the importance of these areas of His labor, yet without the prior work of regeneration, working faith and applying the Work of Christ to me, these would certainly be impossible. Notice Watson, the highly regarded Puritan Divine felt no need to speak of the Holy Spirit’s giftings in his description! Was this some kind of a gross oversight? It would certainly be regarded as such by most Christians of our day. I would argue that is more of a proper description, putting primary things in our view and allowing the secondary to remain unmentioned. His was not an exhaustive treatise, but a basic description. Certainly when we hear of a newborn child we do not immediately ask what kind of clothes it was given, but about its life; its health, gender and size, etc. This shows how far off we can be when we consider the Spirit as merely the Dispenser of gifts and aid to our sanctification rather than the One who causes us to be “born.”
In approaching Pink’s work I see first, a thorough examination of all that Scripture acknowledges of the Person and attributes to the agency of the Holy Spirit. So much more than the average Christian in our 21st Century environment attributes to Him is included in that agency that I have to begin with the words of the men in Ephesus, when the Apostle Paul met them and asked them whether they had received the Holy Spirit. They responded, “ …we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” (Acts 19:2b) Not that these men did not know that He existed, but had no idea of the work that He was doing in the Church or in the individual Believers. Marvin Vincent tells us, “as Bengel observes, ‘They could not have followed either Moses or John the Baptist without having heard of the Holy Ghost.’ The words, therefore, are to be explained, not of their being unaware of the existence of the Holy Ghost, but of his presence and baptism on earth.” (Commentary on Acts 19:2) As they had legitimate reason for not knowing, ours is because of the obscuring of this knowledge due to the theological wrangling of proponents of man’s free agency, and this, to the disparagement of the agency of the Holy Spirit. This seems to me to be one of the great errors of our time and one of the greatest hindrances to the Gospel in the Evangelical church.
The Spirit’s Nature and Personality
In the first installment of Arthur Pink’s series of articles on the Holy Spirit, he concludes that, “Until the Holy Spirit is again given His rightful place in our hearts, thoughts, and activities, there can be no improvement. Until it be recognized that we are entirely dependent upon His operations for all spiritual blessing, the root of the trouble cannot be reached. Until it be recognized that it is “‘Not by might, (of trained workers), nor by power (of intellectual argument or persuasive appeal), but by MY SPIRIT,’ saith the Lord” (Zech. 4:6), there will be no deliverance from that fleshly zeal which is not according to knowledge, and which is now paralyzing Christendom. Until the Holy Spirit is honored, sought, and counted upon, the present spiritual drought must continue.” What a statement from nearly 100 years ago! And how far have we progressed since his warning? Rather, we have regressed woefully away from this sacred standard and toward the very fleshly zeal that he warned against.
The Holy Spirit’s rightful place is not determined by our take on Him, but by His very Nature as a Member of the Blessed Trinity. Certainly it seems impossible to suggest that He is a mere emanation of power from God and not Himself, Divine. Yet there are many who seem to deny either His deity or His personality or both. Whether it is those in apostate, pseudo-Christian cults like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who see Him merely as God’s enabling power or others closer to, but still outside Biblical Christianity, such as Oneness Pentecostals, who see Him as one of the three offices of Jehovah, there seems to be plenty of disparaging belief and teaching out there concerning Him. Thus, it behooves us to begin at the beginning with the Nature and Personality of the Holy Spirit.
In this area, Pink tells us, “Let us begin by pointing out that a “person” is an intelligent and voluntary entity, of whom personal properties may be truly predicated. A “person” is a living entity, endowed with understanding and will, being an intelligent and willing agent. Such is the Holy Spirit…” (Pt. 2, The Personality of the Holy Spirit) Classic proofs are then given by him which seem to me to be overwhelming. The attributes demonstrated are; His understanding, 1 Cor. 2:10; His will, 1 Cor. 12:11. He is said to be tempted, Acts 5:9; lied to, Acts 5;3; and grieved, Eph. 4:30. Can a non-person understand? Is a non-person able to will something? It seems absurd that anyone reading of these things could count the Holy Spirit among inanimate objects or forces. Certainly, when Ananias and Sapphira are charged by Peter in Acts 5, not only His personality, but His Deity are clearly taught. “But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.’ ” (Act 5:3-4)
In addition to this, the Spirit is said to speak 1 Tim. 4:1, Rev. 2:7; to Teach, Luk 12:12, Joh 14:26; and to witness, Heb 10:15, Rom 8:16 among other things. Sufficient is the proof of the manifold witness of the Scriptures in this regard to the point that to reject the Divine Person of the Holy Spirit is to reject the testimony of the Sacred Canon. Borrowing the language of the revered John Owen, Pink commends to us his words, “By all these testimonies we have fully confirmed what was designed to be proved by them, namely, that the Holy Spirit is not a quality, as some speak, residing in the Divine nature; not a mere emanation of virtue and power from God; not the acting of the power of God in and unto our sanctification, but a holy, intelligent subsistent, or Person.”
“A Holy, Intelligent Subsistent;” He is a person (individual being) who is Holy and intelligent. A Person who not only has the attributes described above, but who is also responsible for acts, so far above any other being that He, Himself is not possibly any other than the True God. Again, Mr. Pink instructs us, “However mysterious and inexplicable to human reason the existence of a distinction of Persons in the essence of the Godhead may be, yet if we submissively bow to the plain teachings of the Divine Oracles, then the conclusion that there subsists three Divine Persons who are co-essential, co-eternal, and co-equal is unavoidable. He of whom such works as the creation of the universe, the inspiration of the Scriptures, the formation of the humanity of Christ, the regeneration and sanctification of the elect, is, and must be, GOD; or, to use the language of 2 Corinthians 3:17 ‘Now the Lord is that Spirit.’ ” (Pt 3 The Deity of the Holy Spirit) I love the way John Calvin states it in the Institutes as well, he says, “The mere fact of His not being circumscribed by any limits (Psalm 139) raises Him above the rank of creatures, while His transfusing vigor into all things, breathing into them being, life, and motion, is plainly divine. Again, if regenerating to incorruptible life is higher, and much more excellent than any present quickening, what must be thought of Him by whose energy it is produced?” (Book I. Par 14. Pg 122)
And I could go on, as Pink does, and show many other attributes such as, His Holiness, Rom 1:4; Eternity, Heb 9:14; Omnipresence, Ps 139:7; Omniscience, 1 Cor 2:10-11; etc. However, I am quite comfortable standing on what we have already seen and do not feel compelled to continue looking everywhere in the Scriptures when we have already demonstrated from so many places, the Divine Nature and Personality of the Spirit. For, from its opening verses in Genesis 1:2 where the Spirit hovered over the watery mass of matter at the onset of creation to Revelation 22:17 where He bids Christ, “Come,” His image and handiwork are across the face and throughout the depths of the whole of the Scriptures. They too, are undoubtedly His work (1 Pet 1:21).
His Most Acknowledged Works
Near the end of Pink’s series of articles, he addresses the more commonly known works of the Spirit, Sanctification and the Gifts, or what he calls, “fructifying” and “endowing.” We have all heard sermons on these, no doubt. I once saw a pastor preach Galatians 5:22-23 while dressed in a grape costume just like the ones the “Fruit of the Loom Guys” wear. Though it was in a Charismatic church, as I recall, it was more to do with cultivating the fruit than with relying on the Spirit. These fruits are, as Pink calls them, “the graces and virtues which the Spirit imparts to and develops in the elect.” (Ch 30, The Spirit Fructifying) These are so necessarily from His source because of man’s inherent and complete corruption. We cannot expect to find them in the lives of those who take it upon themselves to reform themselves. For, as Pink says further on, “In a garden the plants and flowers do not grow up naturally of themselves, they do not spring forth spontaneously from its soil, but have to be set or sown, for nothing but weeds grow up of themselves; so in Christ’s Church, those excellencies which are found in its members are not natural to them, but are the direct product of the Spirit’s operations, for by nature nothing grows in their hearts but the weeds of sin and corruption.” (Ch 30 The Spirit Fructifying)
This is a necessary evidence that one has come to saving faith in Christ, that He has been born from above and is now the residence of the Spirit of God, His temple. As we see in Matthew 7:16-20, it is by their fruit that you may know them. Without an accurate concept of man’s fallen nature and the necessity of the Spirit’s presence and activity in the life of the redeemed sinner, this really makes little sense. We (American Evangelicals) imagine far too often that Jesus is just here to help us over the hump and that we have it from there. We are so bent on self-attainment that we cannot even see that we need the Spirit to work a work in us that we are utterly devoid of any power to work for ourselves. Pink points out, “The Spirit fructifies the regenerate by conforming them to the image of Christ: first to His graces, and then to His example. The lovely virtues found in them do not issue from the depraved nature of fallen man, but are supernaturally inwrought by God.” (Ch 30 The Spirit Fructifying) And this will never happen by human effort, but only when we come to see ourselves as helpless before a Holy God and willing to receive it as His gift. It is not a call to acknowledge abject failure but one to acknowledge our need for Him to work in us with the only possibility of success!
Applying to the “means of grace:” This is without a doubt, one of the great paradoxes of the Christian Faith. Though we are to look nowhere but to the Spirit Himself as the source and power of our sanctification, yet we bear a real responsibility in it ourselves. John Owen says of this principle in Volume III of His works (Pneumatology) “There are some things required of us to this end, that holiness may thrive and be carried on in us. Such are the constant use of all ordinances and means appointed unto that end, a due observance of commanded duties in their season, with a readiness for the exercise of every special grace in its proper circumstances.” (Pg 404-405) God has given us means in order to facilitate our sanctification. We, if we are redeemed, must make use of the means that He has given us. The Holy Spirit will make us willing and disclose them to us through the Word of God, but we bear a responsibility to use them. Pink says, “The Spirit effects this great change both immediately and mediately, that is, by His direct actions upon the soul and also by blessing to us our use of the appointed means of grace.” (Ch 27 The Spirit Transforms) The transforming is done directly by the Spirit, but also indirectly or mediately, by the use of the “means” or tools He has given us. These tools are things like, Bible reading, sitting under sound preaching and teaching, prayer, and the Sacraments. These things are an indispensable part of His work in us.
Following the discussion of the “Fructifying” of the Christian comes that of His gifting or Spiritual “Endowment.” I have to say that I am glad that I did not have to study Pink’s view on this doctrine in detail. His reaction against the growing Charismatic movement seems to send him to an extreme in declaring that virtually every Gift listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 is no longer in use. “In 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 we are supplied with a list of those extraordinary gifts of the Spirit which then obtained—we use the word “extraordinary” in contrast from His ordinary gifts, or those which obtain in all ages and generations.” Further on he declares, “Now that all of these special impulses and extraordinary gifts of the Spirit were not intended to be perpetuated throughout this Christian dispensation, and that they have long since ceased, is clear from several conclusive considerations. ” (Pink, Ch 31, The Spirit Endowing) I dealt with this view (probably less extreme) in discussing Brian Schwertly’s teaching of it in my paper on that subject, The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts and Their Use. Though we disagree on the definition of the particular Gifts and the perpetuity of many of them, we do agree that God, by His Spirit, Gifts His Church in such a way as to guide and govern it sufficiently to His purpose. What Pink would call, “ordinary ministerial gifts” he still acknowledges to given by the Spirit for this purpose.
His Most Loving Work
Most of the previous issues are not in dispute in much of the Church today. Though there are polar opposite views of Spiritual Gifts, largely, from Historic Protestantism, to Evangelicalism, and even in Pentecostalism and all the way down to Cults like Roman Catholicism, there is generally a consensus on the Divine Nature and Personality of the Holy Spirit. When we begin to discuss what it is that He does (as we have seen with discussion of the Gifts) we run into many subjective and undiscerning opinions. This is where I believe that Arthur Pink’s work is so compelling and needed, even so many decades after he felt the need to write it. Unfortunately, he seems to have been more the harbinger of ill tidings concerning the Church in America rather than the voice that called us back to the Scriptures. As the prophets of the Old Testament times, he has become to one who calls us to accountability for what we have neglected instead of the one heeded, that we might be restored to proper fellowship with our God.
Though he draws from a long line of great biblical theology, relying heavily on men like John Owen and less so on others like Thomas Goodwin, Charles Spurgeon, Stephen Charnock and John Flavel, it appears the American anti-nomian and egalitarian sentiment is able to disregard him as easily as it has the much else within the great body of truth that is the historic Christian Faith. I certainly do not want to sound divisive on this and I acknowledge that there certainly must be those who do not understand completely (as was once my case), man’s fallen nature and God’s gracious act of regeneration, and yet who understand and believe the Gospel savingly. I also do not want to be understood to believe that the teachings of the Reformers or the Puritans are elevated above or equal to that of the Scriptures. I simply see their teachings as accurate interpretation of the Bible’s most important doctrines. Pink follows a long line of very faithful men of God who devoted their lives to articulating the Gospel and its attendant doctrines.
Recognizing the Holy Spirit’s role in our salvation seems to me to be, for the most part, a lost concept. Speaking to the average Christian about the work of the Spirit would, for most, only conjure up the ideas of His gifting and sanctifying. As I have already alluded, these are impossible if He does not first bring us to real and saving faith in Christ as our Redeemer. Though some speak of His wooing, it is in a rather benign sense. I acknowledge that many Christians will be baffled at this part of the discussion.
Anticipating this, Pink says in chapter 9 of his work (The Work of the Spirit) “But if… all men hate God (John 15:23, 25), and have minds which are “enmity against Him” (Rom. 8:7), so that “there is none that seeketh after God” (Rom. 3:11), preferring and determining to follow their own inclinations and pleasures. If instead of being disposed unto that which is good, “the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” (Eccl. 8:11). And if when the overtures of God’s mercy are made known to them and they are freely invited to avail themselves of the same, they “all with one consent begin to make excuse” (Luke 14:18)—then it is very evident that the invincible power and transforming operations of the Spirit are indispensably required if the heart of a sinner is thoroughly changed, so that rebellion gives place to submission and hatred to love. This is why Christ said, “No man can come to me, except the Father (by the Spirit) which hath sent me draw him” (John 6:44).” Yes, the Reformed doctrine of Total Depravity is at the heart of it. Rejected by the majority of professing Christians in our time, it is still the necessary starting point to understand virtually everything in life. The opening words of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion echo in my mind, “Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” (Pg. 37) In rejecting what the Bible says about man and his nature in favor of what man wants to believe about himself, he forces himself down a road, quickly darkened by ignorance, where he becomes entangled in the hedges of self-will until he is at such a distance from the truth and it has become so obscured that it would show that he is beyond hope. And yet, this proves the very doctrine that it tries to refute and shows the absolute necessity of the Spirit’s intervention on our behalf.
“Surely, this seems a bit extreme!” “What of so many who believe in God and who are involved regularly in attending His worship?” This doctrine of partial corruption by the Fall and of total freedom of the individual’s will raises far more questions than it answers. The problem is not that a biblical view does not answer the tough questions, but that fallen humanity does not like the answers. Pink says of our depravity, “Against what has been said above it may be objected that no such hatred of God as we have affirmed exists in the hearts of the great majority of our fellow-creatures—that while there may be a few degenerates, who have sold themselves to the Devil and are thoroughly hardened in sin, yet the remainder of mankind are friendly disposed to God, as is evident by the countless millions who have some form or other of religion. To such an objector we reply, The fact is, dear friend, that those to whom you refer are almost entirely ignorant of the God of Scripture: they have heard that He loves everybody, is benevolently inclined toward all His creatures, and is so easy-going that in return for their religious performances will wink at their sins. Of course, they have no hatred for such a “god” as this! But tell them something of the character of the true God: that He hates “all the workers of iniquity” (Ps. 5:5), that He is inexorably just and ineffably holy, that He is an uncontrollable Sovereign, who “hath mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth” (Rom. 9:18), and their enmity against Him will soon be manifested—an enmity which none but the Holy Spirit can overcome.” (Ch 9. The Works of the Spirit) That enmity is often directed at those who speak of God in such terms. But a God who stands helplessly by, waiting for dead men to raise themselves would almost be funny if it was not so sad and absurd.
Yet men want this kind of God. One who offers mercy without making any demands; One who is all love and no justice. Again, it seems to me, an exoneration of the doctrine of Total Depravity to see man reject His diagnosis and attempt to heal himself when the Great Physician stands ready and able to heal completely. Pink describes them this way, “All around us are those willing to receive Christ as their Savior, who are altogether unwilling to surrender to Him as their Lord. They would like His peace, but they refuse His “yoke,” without which His peace cannot be found (Matthew 11:29). They admire His promises, but have no heart for His precepts. They will rest upon His priestly work, but will not be subject to His kingly scepter. They will believe in a “Christ” who is suited to their own corrupt tastes or sentimental dreams, but they despise and reject the Christ of God. Like the multitudes of old, they want His loaves and fishes, but for His heart-searching, flesh-withering, sin-condemning teaching, they have no appetite. They approve of Him as the Healer of their bodies, but as the Healer of their depraved souls they desire Him not. And nothing but the miracle-working power of the Holy Spirit, can change this bias and bent in any soul.” (Ch 9. The Works of the Spirit)
From chapters 10-17, Pink deals with the Spirit’s work in applying Christ’s saving work to men. As He regenerates, quickens, enlightens, convicts, comforts, draws, works faith, and unites us to Christ, we see the greatest of His gifts to fallen men. Let’s briefly examine what the Bible teaches us about these important truths.
Regeneration: Pink tells us here, “The absolute necessity for the regenerating operation of the Holy Spirit in order for a sinner’s being converted to God lies in his being totally depraved…. If the sinner were not wholly corrupt he would submit to Christ without any supernatural operation of the Spirit; but fallen man is so completely sunk in corruption that he has not the faintest real desire for God, but is filled with enmity against Him (Rom. 8:7).” (Ch 10 The Holy Spirit Regenerating) This is a pretty big assertion. Fallen man “cannot” submit to God? But the Bible is certainly clear on this, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Rom 8:7-8) That seems pretty clear. The mind that is not controlled by Holy Spirit is “hostile to God,” it “cannot” submit to Him. So, what is a sinner to do? Again, Pink makes another important statement, “The sovereign work of the Spirit in the soul precedes all holy exercises of heart .” It only makes sense that if we are naturally antagonists to God that He has to come to us first so that we might come to Him.
Ephesians 2:1-7 is a crucial passage for seeing this and seeing why God has done it. It begins, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” It really is not looking good for anyone here as the Apostle Paul informs the Ephesians Believers of where they (and we) all began. We begin “dead in trespasses and sins.” That is, completely and infinitely distanced from God and His redemptive love. It has been that our “walk” or manner of life was to follow the world system and where we were quite literally under the dominion of the devil himself. We lived to carry out the desires of our fleshly nature. Even if those seemed kind of good at times they were directed at our comfort and not at God’s glory. Living before the great and loving God who gave us life and continually cares for us, only to pursue what we can get from Him without regard to His Holy Character, is to be unthankful and unholy, and deserving of His wrath.
And yet we see in Ephesians 2:4-7, God’s gracious response to His elect, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” All I can say when I read this passage is, “Hallelujah!” For no other reason than that God decided to display His love and mercy, He made me alive. Even when I was, “dead in [my] trespasses!” Not because I was good, but because He is good, He gave me life. This is just the beginning as we see that He has also “seated us in heavenly places with Christ.” And all of this is just a display of “the immeasurable riches of His grace and kindness in Christ Jesus.” How do you respond to this? If you say, “No. I’m fine thanks.” you have to be crazy or blind! As a fallen man we are all blind as a bat. We cannot see beyond living for the “passion of the flesh and the desires of the body and of the mind.” We are more concerned that God will take these away than that He will give us eternal life and seat us with Christ. If it was not for God giving us life, we would really never even want it.
Giving Life: Pink says in Chapter 11 (The Spirit Quickening), “All the Divine operations in the economy of salvation proceed from the Father, are through the Son, and are executed by the Spirit.” He supports this with John 6:63, which tells us, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.” Likewise at the beginning of John’s Gospel we read these words, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (Joh 1:12-13) This life is not by any “natural” process. It is not the result of heritage or of desire but has its source only in God. And so the Giver of Life said to his audience as He continued in John 6:65, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
Enlightening: As we receive this life we need light. What do we do with this life that God has given us? Pink tells us here, “By nature fallen man is in a state of darkness with respect unto God. Be he ever so wise, learned, and skillful in natural things, unto spiritual things he is blind. Not until we are renewed in the spirit of our minds by the Holy Spirit can we see things in God’s light.” (Ch 12. The Spirit Enlightening) Many people read the Scriptures through the veil of an unregenerate mind and then suddenly one day speak of how the Bible has suddenly come alive, though it was actually they who came alive by the working of God’s Spirit. Without this we will not receive the things of God. The Apostle Paul declares this very clearly to the Corinthians church as he says “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2Co 4:3-6) Dead men cannot see, thus the regenerating power of the Spirit continues afterward, opening the eyes of the blind. This is aptly described by the hymn writer Charles Wesley as he says, “Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and natures night. Thine eye diffused a quickening ray, I woke, the dungeon flamed with light. My chains fell off, my heart was free! I arose, went forth and followed Thee. Amazing love, How can it be, that Thou my God would die for me?” (Amazing Love)
Convicting: Once a man is alive and able to acknowledge God’s communication, the Holy Spirit takes the next step. He shows him his situation before the Holy God. Pink tells us, “The Spirit occupies the quickened and enlightened soul with the exceeding sinfulness of sin. He unmasks its evil character, and shows that all our self-pleasing and self-gratification are but a species of sinfulness—of enmity against Him—against His Person, His attributes, His government. The Spirit makes the convicted soul feel how grievously he has turned his back upon God (Jer. 32:33), lifted up his heel against Him and trampled His laws underfoot.” (Ch 13. The Spirit Convicting) The weight of sin becomes crushing and yet it is not the punishment that the convicted sinner feels that is so heavy but the nature of it as being opposed to God’s very Nature. We must be as the men at Pentecost who cried out, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37) Pink describes it with these words, “The pure light of God, shining in the conscience over against vile darkness, horrifies the soul. The convicted one both sees and feels that God is holy and that he is completely unholy; that God is good and he is vile; that there is a most awful disparity between Him and us. He is made to feelingly cry, “How can such a corrupt wretch like I ever stand before such a holy God, whose majesty I have so often slighted?” Now it is that the soul is made to realize how it has treated God with the basest ingratitude, abusing His goodness, perverting His mercies, scorning his best Friend.” (Ch 13. The Spirit Convicting) I believe that this idea is almost altogether missing form modern Evangelicalism. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit does not end His great work at this point but goes on the show the regenerated, enlightened and convicted sinner the great Remedy for his situation.
Comforting: Once the convicted sinner is forced to look completely outside of himself for his remedy, the Spirit directs his gaze to the cross. It cannot be overstated how important it is to see the sinner brought along this path. We so often want to shorten the process, to get a quick confirmation of the state of their souls that we would short circuit this work of the Spirit and take His work upon ourselves. Pink tells us here, “By the Spirit’s powerful illuminating and convicting operations the sinner is made to realize the awful disparity there is between God and himself, so that he feebly cries, “How can a poor wretch like me ever stand before such a holy God, whose righteous Law I have broken in so many ways, and whose ineffable majesty I have so often insulted?” By that light the convicted soul, eventually, is made to feel its utter inability to help itself, or take one step toward the obtainment of holiness and happiness. By that light the quickened soul both sees and feels there can be no access to God, no acceptance with Him, save through the Person and blood of Christ; but how to get at Christ the stricken soul knows not.” (Ch 14 The Spirit Comforting) This is the best place to be! Until we come here, we will not see Christ and ourselves in our proper relationship. Pink concludes here, “And how does the Spirit work faith in the convicted sinner’s heart? By effectually testifying to him of the sufficiency of Christ for his every need; by assuring him of the Savior’s readiness to receive the vilest who come to Him. He effectually teaches him that no good qualifications need to be sought, no righteous acts performed, no penance endured in order to fit us for Christ. He reveals to the soul that conviction of sin, deep repenting, a sense of our utter helplessness, are not grounds of acceptance with Christ, but simply a consciousness of our spiritual wretchedness, rendering relief in a way of grace truly welcome. Repentance is needful not as inducing Christ to give, but as disposing us to receive. The Spirit moves us to come to Christ in the very character in which alone He receives sinners—as vile, ruined, lost. Thus, from start to finish “Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9)” (Ch 14. The Spirit Comforting)
Drawing: As the enlivened and enlightened sinner is made aware of his need (convicted) and his inability to rescue himself, though he begins to see an opportunity for rest in the Savior’s blood (comforted), he has not yet embraced it. As a living man who is starving sees the food that is offered to him, he is drawn closer to it, the sight and aroma of it inflaming his senses. This must certainly be the same with the sinner who sees his greatest need and finds Christ as his only relief. Pink tells us, “The Divine Drawer is unto God’s people “the Spirit of grace and of supplications” (Zech. 12:10). Of grace, in making to their smitten consciences and exercised hearts a wondrous discovery of the rich grace of God unto penitent rebels. Of supplications, in moving them to act as a man fleeing for his life, to seek after Divine mercy. Then it is He leads the trembling soul to Calvary, “before whose eyes Jesus Christ” is now “evidently (plainly) set forth crucified” (Gal. 3:1), beholding the Savior (by faith) bleeding for and making atonement for his sins.” (Ch 15. The Spirit Drawing) What a wondrous moment, as before he even takes a bite, in his mind he can already taste the life saving nourishment. Jesus communicated this need to the people near the Sea of Galilee as He ministered to them saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (Joh 6:32-35) Jesus used the very same analogy of a hungry person to tell these people that the eternal trumps the temporal. As much as we feel the hunger, the results from a lack of food, only the Spirit of God can give us the hunger pangs for the True Bread from Heaven. This was evidenced as the entire throng of people were lost in the loaves and fishes and obtuse to the offer of eternal life. “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” (Joh 6:66) O, that the Spirit of God would drive home this inexpendable truth!
Creating Faith: Thus we see that we are desperate for the Work of the Spirit. And being enlivened, enlightened, convicted, and comforted and now drawn to the Source of our relief we must embrace Him. But we need to take Pinks warning here, “Let it be said emphatically, the faith which unites to Christ and saves the soul is not merely a natural act of the mind assenting to the Gospel, as it assents to any other truth upon reliable testimony, but is a supernatural act, an effect produced by the power of the Spirit of grace, and is such a persuasion of the truth concerning the Savior as calls forth exercises suited to its Object.” (Ch 16. The Spirit Working Faith) Though we are at this point making a conscious decision to embrace the Savior, and though the Spirit has acted upon our mind and our will to make us ready to receive Him, faith is not the product of our faculties. As the Apostle Paul calls the Roman Christians to humility, he does it by reminding them that the basis of their standing with God is indeed given to them at His discretion; “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” (Rom 12:3) This is one of the most humbling truths of the Christian Faith. All that we have is given to us, right down to the faith with which we trust Christ. This exalts God above us in mercy as infinitely as He is above us by nature. Yet in or fallenness, we still want to claim it for ourselves.
Uniting us to Christ: All of this may seem to be a rather long process at this point, but the Holy Spirit can bring it to pass in the heart of a man in an instant. However, contrary to what much of modern evangelicalism teaches, it is not necessarily instantaneous. The power of conviction can lay upon an individual for weeks or months, whatever the Sovereign Spirit determines is needed. When finally the sinner has come to faith, his salvation is realized in that instant. At this point he becomes a part of Christ’s mystical body and is forever united to Him. This relationship is critical in understanding our interest in Christ. Is it merely a legal contract that can be broken? NO! As Arthur Pink informs us, “It was [God’s] good pleasure that as they were one in law, they should be also one spiritually, that Christ’s merit and grace might not only be imputed, but also imparted to them.” (Ch 17. The Spirit Uniting to Christ) The grace of Christ is not only considered as ours, but is actually applied to us. This is shown in 1 Corinthians 12 and in this context we might understand the true meaning of the “Baptism of the Spirit.” “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” (1Co 12:12-13) The spirit has united us with Christ in such a way that we have become a part of Him. We are His Body. The Lord has taken a rag-tag bunch of heathens as well as Jews and has, by His Spirit, made us into one, in Christ. Again, this is a reason to fall to our knees and worship God, the Father who called us, the Son who purchased our pardon and also the Spirit who took all the the Father had planned and the Son had executed and applied it to a dead sinner.
The understanding of these truths is essential to our living for Christ. Without it we cannot have the sanctifying and gifting we desire. Without it the pride of self-attainment will stunt the growth of any such fruit. Without it we will never honor God for all that is His due in our salvation; we will never begin to contemplate, let alone conceive of the “immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2:7) We will never see His power manifested in our lives as long as we continue to rely upon our own.
Arthur Pink quotes George Smeaton as saying “The distinctive feature of Christianity as it addresses itself to man’s experience, is the work of the Spirit, which not only elevates it far above all philosophical speculation, but also above every other form of religion.” (Ch 1. The Holy spirit) Every other system whether it is psychology or metaphysics, is nothing but man trying endlessly to reach God (or god) without even knowing what they are looking for. Christianity is the infinite and infallible God coming and taking man to Himself. The Agent of that mission is the Holy spirit. In addition to His coming and working in us to revive us, enlighten us and teaching us of our state and His merciful offer; in addition to His creating the desire and then fulfilling it by creating faith and uniting us to Christ; He also gives us gifts and graces. Once we have come to know Christ, The Spirit is still indispensable to us in conforming us to His image and gifting us for His service. But let me ask you, If we only ever looked to our parents as the providers of stuff and not as the givers of life, how would than change our relationship to them? Yet, this is how many of us see the Holy Spirit. I pray that we would begin to see Him more in the light of who He is.
Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Beveridge ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Grand Rapids Book Mfg., 1975. Print.
Pink, Arthur W. The Holy Spirit. Granbury, TX: BM Desktop Publications, 2010. N. pag. Web. 21 May 2011.
Vincent, Marvin. Vincent’s Word Studies. E-Sword Electronic Edition
Watson, Thomas. A Body of Divinity. Edinburgh, Scotland: Banner of Truth Trust, 1974. Print.