Accept a brotherly caution against all kinds of Christian teaching, falsely so called, which, either directly or indirectly, dishonor the work of the Holy Spirit. Beware of the error, on one side, which practically substitutes church membership and participation of the sacraments for the Spirit. Let no man make you believe that to be baptized and go to the Lord's Table, is any sure proof that you have the Spirit of Christ. Beware of the error, on the other side, which proudly substitutes the inward light, so called, and the scraps of conscience which remain in every man after the fall, for the saving grace of the Holy Spirit. * Let no man make you believe that as a matter of course, since Christ died, all men and women have within them the Spirit of Christ. I touch on these points gently. I should be sorry to write one needless word of controversy But I do say to every one who prizes real Christianity in these days. "Be very jealous about the real work and office of the third Person of the Trinity." Try the spirits whether they be of God. Prove diligently the many divers and strange doctrines which now infect the Church. And let the subject brought before you this day be one of your principal tests. Try every new doctrine of these latter times by two simple questions. Ask first, "Where is the Lamb?" And ask secondly, "Where is the Holy Spirit?"
2. The second point I propose to consider, is the necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit to man's salvation.
I invite special attention to this part of the subject. Let it be a settled thing in our minds that the matter we are considering in this paper is no mere speculative question in religion, about which it signifies little what we believe. On the contrary, it lies at the very foundation of all saving Christianity. Wrong about the Holy Spirit and His offices, we are wrong to all eternity.
The necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit arises from the total corruption of human nature. We are all by nature 'dead in sins." (Ephesians 2:1). However shrewd, and clever, and wise in the things of this world, we are all dead towards God. The eyes of our understanding are blinded. We see nothing aright. Our wills, affections, and inclinations are alienated from Him who made us. "The carnal mind is enmity against God." (Romans 8:7). We have naturally neither faith, nor fear, nor love, nor holiness. In short, left to ourselves, we should never be saved.
Without the Holy Spirit no man ever turns to God, repents, believes, and obeys. Intellectual training and secular education alone make no true Christians. Acquaintance with fine arts and science leads no one to heaven. Pictures and statues never brought one soul to God. The "tender strokes of art" never prepared any man or woman for the judgment day. They bind up no broken heart; they heal no wounded conscience. The Greeks had their Zeuxis and Parrhasius, their Phidias and Praxiteles, masters as great in their day as any in modern times; yet the Greeks knew nothing of the way of peace with God. They were sunk in gross idolatry, and bowed down to the works of their own hands. The most zealous efforts of ministers alone cannot make men Christians. The ablest scriptural reasoning has no effect on the mind; the most fervent pulpit eloquence will not move the heart; the naked truth alone will not lead the will. We who are ministers know this well by painful experience. We can show men the fountain of living waters, but we cannot make them drink. We see many a one sitting under our pulpits year after year, and hearing hundreds of sermons full of Gospel truth, without the slightest result. We mark him year after year, unaffected and unmoved by every Scriptural argument, cold as the stones on which he treads as he enters our church, unmoved as the marble statue which adorns the tomb against the wall, dead as the old dry oak of which his pew is made, feelingless as the painted glass in the windows, through which the sun shines on his head. We look at him with wonder and sorrow, and remember Xavier's words as he looked at China: "Oh, rock, rock! when wilt thou open?" And we learn by such cases as these, that nothing will make a Christian but the introduction into the heart of a new nature, a new principle, and a Divine seed from above.
What is it then that man needs? We need to be "born again:" and this new birth we must receive of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of life must quicken us. The Spirit must renew us. The Spirit must take away from us the heart of stone. The Spirit must put in us the heart from above. A new act of creation must take place. A new being must be called into existence. Without all this we cannot be saved. Here lies the main part of our need of the Holy Spirit. "Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3). No salvation without a new birth. **
Let us dismiss from our minds forever the common idea that natural theology, moral persuasion, logical arguments, or even an exhibition of Gospel truth, are sufficient of themselves to turn a sinner from his sins, if once brought to bear upon him. It is a strong delusion. They will not do so. The heart of man is far harder than we fancy: the old Adam is much more strong than we suppose. The ships which run aground at half-ebb, will never stir till the tide flows: the heart of man will never look to Christ, repent, and believe, till the Holy Spirit comes down upon it. Till that takes place, our inner nature is like the earth before the present order of creation began, "without form and void, and darkness covering the face of the deep." (Genesis 1:2). The same power which said at the beginning, "let there be light: and there was light," must work a crating work in us, or we shall never rise to newness of life.
But I have something more to say yet on this branch of my subject. The necessity of the work of the Spirit to man's salvation is a wide field, and I have yet another remark to make upon it.
I say then, that without the work of the Holy Spirit no man could ever be fit to dwell with God in another world. A fitness of some kind we must have. The mere pardon of our sins would be a worthless gift, unless accompanied by the gift of a new nature, a nature in harmony and in tune with that of God Himself. We need a meetness for heaven, as well as a title for heaven, and this meetness we must receive from the Holy Spirit. We must be made "partakers of the divine nature," by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:4). The Spirit must sanctify our carnal natures, and make them love spiritual things.
* It is not the natural light of conscience, nor that improved by the Word, which converts any man to God, although this is the best spring of most men's practical part of religion. But it is faith, bringing in a new light into conscience, and so conscience lighting it taper at that sun which humbleth for sin in another manner, and drives men to Christ, sanctifieth, changeth, and writes the law in the heart. And this you will find to be the state of difference between Augustine, and the Pelagians, and semi-Pelagians, which the whole stream and current of natural conscience, and the seeds of natural virtues in men (as in philosophers), being improved and manured by the revelations of this Word, to be that grace which the Scripture speaks of. He proclaims wall their virtues, and their use of natural light to be sins, because deficient of holiness, and requires for us not only the revelation of the objects of faith, which else natural light could not find out, but a new light to see them withal." (Thomas Goodwin)
** This is that which gives unto the ministry of the Gospel both its glory and its efficacy. Take away the Spirit from the Gospel, and you render it a dead letter, and leave the New Testament of no more use unto Christians than the Old Testament is unto the Jews." It is the power of the Holy Spirit resteth all ability to know God and to please Him. It is He that puritieth the mind by His secret working. He enlighteneth the mind to conceive worthy thoughts of Almighty God
~J. C. Ryle~
(continued with # 4)