(d) Would you know, in the next place, the reason why we, who are ministers of the Gospel, never despair of anyone who hears us so long as he lives? Listen, and I will tell you.
We never despair, because we believe the power of the Holy Spirit. We might well despair when we look at our own performances: we are often sick of ourselves. We might well despair when we look at some who belong to our congregations: they seem as hard and insensible as the mill-stone. But we remember the Holy Spirit, and what He has done; we remember the Holy Spirit, and consider that He has not changed. He can come down like fire and melt the hardest hearts; He can convert the worst man or woman among our hearers, and mold their whole character into a new shape. And so we preach on. We hope, because of the Holy Spirit. Oh, that our hearers would understand that the progress of true religion depends "not on might or on power," but on the Lord's Spirit! Oh, than many of them would learn to lean less on ministers, and to pray more for the Holy Spirit! Oh, that all would learn to expect less from schools, and tracts, and ecclesiastical machinery, and, while using all means diligently, would seek more earnestly for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Zech. 4:6).
(e) Would you know, in the next place, what you ought to do, if your conscience tells you you have not the Spirit?
If you have not the Spirit, you ought to go at once to the Lord Jesus Christ in prayer, and beseech Him to have mercy on you, and send you the Spirit. I have not the slightest sympathy with those who tell men to pray for the Holy Spirit in the first place, in order that they may go to Christ in the second place. I see no warrant of Scripture for saying so. I only see that if men feel they are needy, perishing sinners, they ought to apply first and foremost, straight and direct to Jesus Christ. I see that He Himself says, "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and rink" (John 7:37). I know that it is written, "He hath received gifts for men, even for the rebellious, that the Lord might dwell among them." (Psalm lxviii: 18). I know it is His special office to baptize with the Holy Spirit, and that "in Him all fullness dwells." I dare not pretend to be more systematic than the Bible. I believe that Christ is the meeting place between God and the soul, and my first advice to any one who wants the Spirit must always be, "Go to Jesus, and tell your want to Him" (Colossians 1:19).
Furthermore I would say, if you have not the Spirit, you must be diligent in attending those means of grace through which the Spirit works. You must regularly hear that Word, which is His sword; you must habitually attend those assemblies where His presence is promised; you must, in short, be found in the way of the Spirit, if you want the Spirit to do you good. Blind Bartimeus would never have received sight had he sat lazily at home, and not come forth to sit by the wayside. Zacchaeus might never have seen Jesus and become a son of Abraham, if he had not run before and climbed up into the sycamore tree. The Spirit is a loving and good Spirit. But he who despises means of grace resists the Holy Spirit.
Remember two things. I firmly believe that no man ever acted honestly and perseveringly on these two pieces of advice who did not, sooner or later, have the Spirit.
(f) Would you know, in the next place, what you ought to do, if you stand in doubt about your own state, and cannot tell whether you have the Spirit?
If you stand in doubt whether you have the Spirit, you ought to examine calmly whether your doubts are well-founded. There are many true believers, I fear, who are destitute of any firm assurance as to their own state: doubting is their life. I ask such persons to take their Bibles down, and consider quietly the grounds of their anxiety. I ask them to consider whence came their sense of sin, however feeble, - their love to Christ, however faint, - their desire after holiness, however weak, - their pleasure in the company of God's people, - their inclination to prayer and the Word? Whence came these things, I say? Did they come from your own heart? Surely not! Nature bears no such fruit. Did they come from the devil? Surely not! satan does not war against satan. Whence then, I repeat, did these things come? I warn you to beware lest you grieve the Holy Spirit by doubting the truth of His operations. I tell you it is high time for you to reflect whether you have not been expecting an inward perfection which you had no right to expect, and at the same time thanklessly undervaluing a real work which the Holy Spirit has actually wrought in your souls.
A great statesman once said that if a foreigner visited England, for the first time, with his eyes bandaged and his ears open, hearing everything, but seeing nothing, he might well suppose that England was on the road to ruin; so may are the murmurings of the English people. And yet if that same foreigner came to England with his ears stopped and his eyes open, seeing everything and hearing nothing, he would probably suppose that England was the most wealthy and flourishing country in the world, so many are the signs of prosperity that he would see.
I am often disposed to apply this remark to the case of doubting Christians. If I believed all they say of themselves I should certainly think they were in a bad state. But when I seem them living as they do, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, poor in spirit, desiring holiness, loving the name of Christ, keeping up habits of Bible reading and prayer, - when I see these things I cease to be afraid. I trust my eyes more than my ears. I see manifest marks of the Spirit's presence, and I only grieve that they should refuse to see them themselves. I see the devil robbing them of their peace, by instilling these doubts into their minds, and I mourn that they should injure themselves by believing him. Some professors, without controversy, may well doubt grace about them. But many nurse up a habit of doubt in their minds for which they have no cause, and of which they ought to be ashamed.
(g) Would you know, last of all, what you ought to do if you really have the Spirit?
If you have the Holy Spirit, seek to be "filled with the Spirit." (Ephesians 5:18). Drink deep of the living waters. Do not be content with a little religion. Pray that the Spirit may fill every corner and chamber of your heart, and that not an inch of room may be left in it for the world and the devil.
If you have the Spirit, "grieve not the Spirit." It is easy for believers to weaken their sense of His presence, and deprive themselves of His comfort. Little sins not mortified, little bad habits of temper or of tongue not corrected, little compliances with the world, are all likely to offend the Holy Spirit. Oh, that believers would remember this! There is far more of "heaven on earth" to be enjoyed than many of them attain to: and why do they not attain to it? They do not watch sufficiently over their daily ways, and so the Spirit's work is damped and hindered. The Spirit must be a thoroughly sanctifying Spirit if He is to be a comforter to your soul.
If you have the Holy Spirit, labor to bring forth all "the fruits of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22). Read over the list which the Apostle has drawn out, and see that no one of these fruits of neglected. Oh, that believers would seek for more "love" and more "joy." Then would they do more good to all men; then would they feel happier themselves; then would they make religion more beautiful in the eyes of the world!
I commend the things that I have written to the serious attention of every reader of these pages. Let them not have been written in vain. Join with me in praying that the Spirit may be poured out from on high with more abundant influence than He has ever been yet! Pray that He may be poured out on all believers, that they may be more united and more holy. Pray that He may be poured out everywhere. Pray, above all, that He may be poured out, in abundant power, on your own soul, that if you know not the truth, you may be taught to know it, and that if you know it, you may know it better.
~J. C. Ryle~