Here we study the subjective work of the Holy Spirit that perfects and consummates His objective work. He works in us what was wrought by Christ for us, and in the case of the believer the operations of the Spirit are effectual. These may be viewed in the following order, which is the logical sequence of the Spirit’s ministrations rather than that of the soul’s personal experience. There is first of all the implanting of the new life, or regeneration. There is then the call of God to which the new life responds by faith. This is followed by the experience of conversion, which is the beginning of a conscious process of sanctification, and the expression of sanctification that manifests itself in obedience. There is finally the completion of sanctification which results in complete redemption and glorification.
These are all links in the chain of the Spirit’s operations, and though the subject of these operations may not be able to observe this order, and may even claim that this is not the order of his experience, we believe, none-the-less, that as processes undertaken by the Spirit of God, this is the divine order.
The Divine Call
It is convenient, even if it is not strictly logical, to begin with the divine call. It has its origin in the grace of the Holy Spirit, by which God approaches the sinner when he is dead in trespasses and sins. If that be indeed the condition in which the call of God finds every soul to whom it comes, we might well ask what the soul can do about it. Can he do anything at all? True, it is a living death, a death in which there is progression, an intake of wages, an absorbing of the qualities of death, yet that gives no power to heed God’s wooing call. It is true that man was endowed with free will, yet in the act of sinning, man has put his will into the power of another, and it is now in bondage. If it be still free, it is free only to choose the evil and to refuse the good; certainly it is incapable of exercising its freedom to turn to God. It is rather like a car whose engine is fixed in reverse gear: every time the engine is 92 started, the car moves backwards! In the same way any move that man makes of his own volition is in the direction of departure from God. Thus it is that every movement God-wards is of grace from first to last. God takes the initiative and maintains the initiative in all His dealings with man. He is working graciously towards the soul even when the soul is not able to recognise His hand. This is what our fathers, from Augustine onwards, used to speak of as prevenient grace – the grace that goes before saving grace, the grace that anticipates salvation. This is the grace that brought Zacchaeus into the sycamore tree to await the Saviour; the grace that brought Lydia to the riverside where she was to hear of the Saviour and have her heart opened; the grace that took Onesimus to Rome to meet with the messenger of the cross that he might be free for ever.
Though God the Holy Spirit can use any instrument He chooses in His gracious call, and make any approach to the soul that He in His wisdom sees fit, He commonly uses the Word read or preached, and, in any case, whatever His mode of approach may be, sooner or later He directs the soul to the written Word which is His usual channel of enlightenment and blessing.
What is the good, it may be asked, of bringing the divine message to the soul if the soul is dead and so incapable of responding? If the car, to use the figure we have already introduced, has its gear fixed in reverse, what is the use of starting the engine? What it needs first is the skilled hand of the motor engineer! Even so with the souls of men: the skilled hand of Him who is Creator and Redeemer is needed before there is a God-ward response to the divine call. The creative power of the Holy Ghost must come into the field. The divine surgery envisaged by Ezekiel must take place: ‘A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart and I will give you a heart of flesh’ (11:19). Thus the first decisive and effective act of saving grace is regeneration, an act by which the soul is endowed with spiritual life from God.
The necessity for this is apparent if we reflect that the taint and blemish of sin have invaded the whole of man’s nature, so that no part of his being is immune. This is what we understand by ‘total depravity’ – depravity that has affected the totality of our parts. The very foundations of our nature have been marred, and God steps in to lay new foundations, and to impart a new governing principle that affects the entire man. This is tantamount to a new creation, for there is Imparted a new life, a life that is animated by the principle of the life of God, so that we are said to become ‘partakers of the divine nature’, not indeed in the sense that we have a part of God’s life, and are therefore divine. It is not a matter of essence but of life, not a matter of being but of character. Nevertheless the nature that is imparted is divine and therefore holy as God is holy, and incapable of becoming polluted by sin.
In its action, regeneration takes place instantaneously in the hidden depths of the soul, so that the person himself is not actually conscious of what has happened. How long it may remain dormant, as it were, we cannot say, for it differs in different cases. Some, like John the Baptist, may be filled with the Holy Ghost from their mother’s womb, and become fully conscious of it only when they come to years of discretion and understanding. But even in such cases we believe that the divine Spirit who watched over the unborn manhood of our Lord, watched over the life He has implanted, preserves it, and in His own good time, brings it into the consciousness of the soul. It is at that moment that the soul hears the call of God and responds to it, and there is a new birth in the conscious experience. Thus the first action of the new nature inborn in the soul is to answer the call of God, as an infant of days responds to its mother’s voice. The response is made by faith, the active principle of the new life that has been imparted, a new faculty of the new-born soul. While this is undoubtedly the divine order of working, it is very unlikely to be the order of our experience. Though the nature to respond to the call of God is implanted before the response to the call can be given, yet in our experience we are conscious only of hearing the call and responding, of seeing the light and believing, or being given the offer and accepting. Until the new life was imparted, however, there was no ear to hear, no eye to see, no hand to accept. But since the new birth and the exercise of faith constitute our first conscious experience of having passed from death unto life, it may well be said to mark the beginning of our Christian state.
It is well to note, however, that regeneration, though as radical as a new creation within the soul, does not entail a change in the essential substance of the soul, and our manhood or womanhood, that is our personality, is not impaired. In other words the being of man is not changed, though his nature is, for though sin corrupted the nature, the being is intact. On the other hand, it is not a change merely in one faculty of the soul; it extends its influence to the whole being of man. As sin affected us totally, so grace must affect us totally.
The most serious implications of regeneration, however, is that there are now two natures in the Christian, the old and the new. This entails conflict – unceasing antagonism between light and darkness, between the corrupt nature and the divine nature within. (It is very probable in this light that we should understand Paul’s conflict recorded in Romans 7.) But although the old nature is not improved it is being gradually subdued, its propensities come more and more under the restraint and direction of the new nature, and it is being, surely, albeit slowly as it may seem, supplanted.
When the faith that is quickened in regeneration operates in the life there is conversion. And conversion is thus the outer expression of the inner life. It can, therefore, be said that while regeneration refers to the inner nature, conversion refers to the outer life. They are inseparably linked, however, in that conversion is the natural and inevitable expression of the new life that has been communicated by the Holy Spirit. Conversion may, therefore, be said to be an act of God by which He causes the regenerate soul, in conscious life, to turn to Him in new obedience.
Conversion will thus be seen to affect, not the state of man, but his condition, and for that reason it takes place in the conscience life, even though its roots are in the subconscious. It is decisive and occurs in a moment. It is not a process. And in its fundamental aspect it cannot be regarded as repeated: it is once for all, and after that there may be, again and again, the experience of restoration.
Though conversion is due, as we have already observed, to an immediate act of God the Holy Spirit, bringing the principle of regeneration to fruition in the life, man is nevertheless fully conscious, and he co-operates with the Spirit even though the capacity to cooperate – the Power ‘to will and to do’, as Paul puts it – comes from God. Yet in a real sense man is enlisted on the side of God, and that means the whole man from the very centre of his being. Conversion is thus both human and divine – God has spoken and the soul acts on what He says. It is significant, in this connection, that the Scriptures refer to conversion as an act of man some 140 times, while it refers to it as an act of God only 6 times. It suggests, perhaps, that we should preserve this proportion, this weight of emphasis, in our preaching.
The two elements in conversion that make room for man’s co-operation are repentance and faith. These two acts cannot be regarded as separate and apart, for they go together: there is faith in all true repentance, and there is repentance in all true faith. Nor are repentance and faith to be regarded as merely exercised, once for all, in Conversion: they are permanent elements in the conscious experience of the converted one. The Holy Spirit ordinarily uses the Word to give repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ. The four main centres of life affected by repentance and faith may be said to be the mind involving knowledge, the conscience involving conviction, the heart involving feeling, and the will involving decision, and these four are exercised throughout the whole of the Christian’s life on earth.
Thus far we have traced the operations of the Holy Spirit in the soul and life of man, working independently of man’s strength or power, yet bringing man to cooperate in such a way that though God is in it wholly and completely in it – yet man is also wholly and completely in it, even when God’s will is behind man’s willingness, and God’s act behind man’s action. What a manifestation it all is of the love of the Spirit!
Conversion, however, is not an end in itself, as we so often seem to think; it is only the beginning of the Christian life and witness. Above all it is the beginning of a process of sanctification whose end is perfect conformity of life and character to the will of God, and to the likeness of Jesus Christ. Sanctification is supremely the work of the Spirit of God, a work in which the believer cooperates daily. But nonetheless it must be emphasised that we are no more sanctified by our own efforts than we are saved by our own efforts.
The Nature of Sanctification
Though the underlying thought in sanctification, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, is separation to God and dedication to Him, it bears in Christian experience the same meaning as holiness. It is a divine operation in the soul whereby the holy principle implanted in regeneration is strengthened, its exercise increased, and its dominion extended. Though man cooperates with God in faith and obedience, sanctification should not be represented as a merely natural process in the spiritual development of man. The exercises of the soul in sanctification are represented by such New Testament figures as a fight, a contest, a race, clearly marking it off as not a natural growth that goes on irrespective of man’s own effort. There is such a thing as arrested development in the life of sanctification. It is not a process that is inevitable: it can be hastened or retarded.
As a process sanctification may be conceived of as consisting of two parts, inasmuch as there are two natures in conflict in the Christian: the mortification of the old nature and the reviving and strengthening of the new life. On the one hand, the old man must be crucified and this involves conflict, pain and death. There must be a conscious resistance to sin and a forsaking of all appearance of evil. That, however, is only its negative aspect. Its positive aspect is that by the continual operation of the Holy Spirit the new life within the soul is strengthened and a new course of life entered upon more and more fully. These two activities – the mortification of the old nature and the advancement of the new – must go on simultaneously. The erection of the new does not wait till the old is completely demolished.
As to extent sanctification affects the entire man. As by total depravity we mean that sin has affected the totality of man’s parts, so by parity of reasoning, total sanctification should mean that sanctification affects the man totally, in all his parts and all his members. Thus all the faculties of mind and heart, all the members of body and spirit, participate in the work of sanctification There is a new man begotten, perfect in all his parts, even as a child of days is perfect, though not yet fully developed. For that reason sin in any part cannot be excused or condoned. Sin has no right to be present and God cannot recognise its rights. ‘Be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect’ is Christ’s standard, and it can never be lowered. And the man must accept full responsibility for all sin that is present in the heart or life. He can never shelter under the facile excuse that it is ‘the old man’ that has sinned, and that, therefore, he is not responsible! The Christian has two natures, but he does not have a dual personality. His is a redeemed personality and it ought not to have any traffic with sin. Sin in the Christian is, for that reason, entirely his own responsibility, and must be inexcusable and intolerable.
As to degree, sanctification is, generally speaking, an extended process. Though God can complete it in a very short time, for God’s processes are not measured by time, yet as personal holiness our sanctification is normally a lengthened process, not fully completed till we pass through death. None-the-less, it must be understood that the new nature imparted to the soul is perfect from the first and remains wholly uncontaminated by sin. Though his new nature – the life of God in the soul – is developing and extending its dominion, the old nature in itself is not getting any better even when it is yielding ground. Nevertheless the leaven of the new nature is extending through the entire person, making its influence felt at every point and in that respect the person must be getting more and more holy. But the warfare between the old and the new natures never slackens; it rather tends to increase as holiness increases. The more we extend the circle of light the more we enlarge the circumference that makes contact with darkness; therefore as holiness increases, consciousness of sin increases and intolerance of sin increases also.
The Means of Sanctification
Since sanctification is a divine process in which man cooperates with God, it must be expected that in the use of Divinely appointed means sanctification can be advanced and the character brought more and more into conformity with the mind and will of God. But behind and beneath all outward means there are these vital relationships in the Christian life that have to do with the development of sanctification.
Firstly, there is the believer’s union with Christ. It cannot be too strongly emphasised that sanctification is most definitely a work of God and the fruit of our union with Jesus Christ. As Christ met with sin in all its aspects – with its penalty by His satisfaction, with its guilt by His atonement, and with its pollution by His righteousness, so the believer who is united to Jesus Christ participates in the fullness of His satisfaction, His atonement and His righteousness. There is thus a sense in which the believer has his sanctification in Christ, and in that respect his sanctification is now complete and perfect. In other words, perfect sanctification is part of Christ’s finished redemption on our behalf since He ‘of God was made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption’. Thus our identification with Christ ensures our sanctification and our glorification.
But Christ’s righteousness imputed to us is not to be confused with personal righteousness imparted to us. In the one case we are reckoned righteous, in the other we are made righteous. Thus we must distinguish between the divine provision for us, and the divine operation in us. Nevertheless there is a truth here regarding our sanctification that must be careful to apprehend. It is that Christ is not merely the ground of our righteousness in our relation to God, but He is also the source of our righteousness in our daily life and in relation to our fellows. This practical righteousness is in very truth our sanctification, and it is imparted to us in virtue of our union with Christ. Because of that union, we are not only ‘crucified with Christ’ so that we die unto sin, but we are ‘risen with Christ’ so that we live unto God. This resurrection life of our Lord is mediated to us by the Holy Spirit, so that we are in Christ as the branch is in the vine. For this reason it can legitimately be said that sanctification is not the fruit of our own labour, but it flows to us from Christ through the Spirit. And so it is that as our nature became unclean through our link with the first Adam, so our nature became holy through our link with the Second Adam. This is undoubtedly one aspect of sanctification that we cannot afford to remain ignorant of, even though it presents only one side of the truth.
Secondly, emphasis must also be placed upon the indwelling Spirit in the work of sanctification. According to the promise of Christ the Christian is indwelt by the Spirit of God and so becomes the Temple of the Holy Ghost: ‘He dwelleth with you and shall be in you’ (John 14:17). This promise of the Abiding and Indwelling Spirit is given to all believers, since the Spirit’s indwelling is the fruit of Christ’s redemption. There is, therefore, this close link between what Christ did for us and what the Spirit does in us: the one is cause, the other effect. Thus it is not left to the believer to appropriate the Spirit for himself – the Spirit is the inalienable portion of all who are redeemed by Christ and believe in Him. If it be asked whether there be any distinction to be made between the terms, the Spirit with us, and the Spirit in us, we would answer that the Spirit is not with the believer except in the sense that He is in him, and that, therefore, there is no distinction. Neither is there any distinction to be made between the assertions that Christ dwells in us and that the Spirit dwells in us, since it is the indwelling Spirit who brings the spiritual presence of Christ into the heart and takes of the things of Christ and makes them known to us. The Spirit, therefore, does not reveal Himself in the heart; His office is to reveal Christ. Now it is significant that the Spirit is specifically called the Holy Spirit in His relation to the Christian, as if to indicate His special function within the heart and to safeguard His character from any suggestion of condoning the sin that is there. He remains holy as the indwelling Spirit and He invokes holiness. As in justification the Spirit puts our position right with God, so in sanctification He makes our condition worthy of our position. As the indwelling Spirit He prays for us, with us, and through us, and baptises us with the fire that consumes the dress and cleanses the life.
Thirdly, we cannot lose sight of the fact that we are sanctified by faith And by faith we mean the obedience of faith. Formerly, we spoke of prevenient grace, now we speak of co-operating grace. As prevenient grace belongs to our calling and regeneration where the Spirit operates by the Word, so co-operating grace belongs to sanctification where the Spirit calls into operation the powers of the renewed man and works in us through those powers and graces that are ours as regenerated men. The Christian cooperates with the Spirit by faith.
It is not enough to say that the good tree will bring forth its good fruit by an inevitable law, and that no cultivation is needed. The Scriptures indicate that cultivation is necessary, and the Christian in the exercise of faith cooperates with the Spirit in this cultivation as he ‘works out’ his own salvation which God has worked in. Under faith we include all those spiritual exercises of the soul that operate on the principle of faith, such as communion, prayer, Bible study, self-denial.
But sanctifying faith has always Christ and His righteousness as its object. If our faith becomes centred on our own sanctification and is turned in to view our own ‘higher life’, it is apt to produce that complacency and sense of attainment that is such a peril to the Christian life: in short, it ceases to be a sanctifying faith because it is not faith in Christ. Faith, though it has its subjective aspects, normally looks out to Christ and ‘beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord we are changed into the same image, from glory to glory as by the Spirit of the Lord’ (2 Corinthians 3:18). Thus though we are transformed in looking, it is the Spirit who effects the transformation. When faith in Christ languishes, or is diverted to some other object, then the believer ceases to cooperate with the Spirit in the work of his sanctification.
Operations of the Spirit in Perfecting Obedience
We have indicated the work of the Holy Spirit in the sanctification of believing men and women. Now we turn to indicate certain operations of the Spirit, mentioned in the New Testament, that have been the subject of confusion and not a little extravagant thinking in regard to the degree of sanctification in the case of certain believers.
The baptism of the Spirit
Mention is made of the baptism of the Spirit in all the four Gospels and on two occasions in the Book of Acts. It is only twice, however, that we have any record of such a baptism, on the Day of Pentecost and in the house of Cornelius. Now these two occasions are very definitely connected; they both mark the beginning of things, one Jewish and the other Gentile. On the Day of Pentecost, the body baptised was Jewish, while in the house of Cornelius it was Gentile, when Peter, by the Spirit, ‘opened the door of faith to the Gentiles’. In other words what happened at Caesarea, in the house of Cornelius, was a continuation of Pentecost, reaching the Gentile Church. Nowhere in the Epistles does the phrase, ‘baptism in the Spirit’ occur. All the circumstances thus suggest that this baptism was reserved for the Christian Church to mark its reception; it was, in principle, a case of Infant Baptism! The Church, as a Church and as the Body of Christ, was baptised and thus received. For that reason we believe that it was not repeated, except in the measure in which it is true of all of us who are united by faith to Jesus Christ that ‘by one Spirit we are baptised into one Body’ (1 Corinthians 12: 13), inasmuch as we are spiritually admitted into the baptised body of believers, which is the Church. We have no warrant from Scripture to expect this baptism to be repeated in the experience of individual Christians.
Anointed by the Spirit
This is almost self-explanatory. The figure is taken over from the Old Testament ceremony of anointing to office in the case of prophets, priests and kings. In this ceremonial anointing, the oil was the symbol of the Holy Spirit. The figure is transferred in the New Testament to the Christian as an indication that this typical anointing with oil has become in his experience the reality of the Spirit’s presence to equip him for all holy service. And since every Christian is called to this three-fold of prophet, priest and king, this anointing is the portion of every true believer. It is true, however, that special anointing may be expected and prayed for as equipment for special service.
Sealed by the Spirit
Speaking to the believing Ephesians, Paul says of Jesus Christ, ‘in whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation, in whom also after ye believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance, until the redemption of the purchased possession’ (Ephesians 1:1314). Here the Spirit, who was given to Christians on believing, is said to act as a ‘seal’, marking them off as God’s and acting in them as an earnest or pledge of full glory to come. Thus it is that in the giving of the Spirit to the believer on his conversion, there is placed upon him and in him God’s mark as being God’s peculiar possession, and in the presence and grace of the indwelling Spirit he has an earnest or foretaste of the blessedness of full redemption. For that reason we conclude that this sealing is not the particular privilege of any one class of Christians, but the possession of all believers. It is undoubtedly true, however, that the measure in which they may have a consciousness of this sealing and the enjoyment of this earnest, will differ in different individuals. Not only does this blessed consciousness vary with individuals, but alas, it varies from time to time in the one individual.
The filling of the Spirit
Writing to the Ephesians Paul uses another phrase: ‘Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess, but be filled with the Spirit’ (5:18). Further references to the fullness of the Spirit occur throughout the Gospels and the Acts. Our Lord Himself went up from His Baptism in Jordan to face His Temptation, ‘full of the Holy Ghost’. John the Baptist was ‘filled with the Holy Ghost’, even from his mother’s womb, and John’s father and mother are spoken of as ‘filled with the Holy Ghost’. At Pentecost, the gathered company were ‘all filled with the Holy Ghost’. Peter was ‘filled’ with the Holy Ghost when he met the Jewish Council, and Paul was similarly filled with the Spirit at his baptism. Stephen before his martyrdom was filled with the Holy Ghost when he saw the heavens opened, and Barnabas is described as a man ‘full of the Holy Ghost and of faith’.
It is, perhaps, legitimate to divide these references into two classes, the first referring to special occasions in the lives of believers when a special manifestation of the Spirit’s power was called for, and the second to the habitual life and experience of certain believers in whose case the fullness of the Spirit was their normal condition. With all these references in view, we cannot very easily evade the conclusion that ‘filled by the Spirit’ and ‘the fullness of the Spirit’ are terms to designate a high degree of consecration to the work of God, and in consequence, a high degree of power in His service. We cannot regard it as anything exceptional or abnormal, but an experience within the reach of every Christian who has been given the gift of the Holy Spirit of God. Nor can we regard this as signifying a visitation of the believer different in kind from the visitation of the Spirit given to him at his conversion If difference there be, it is a difference in degree, not in kind, and here again, that degree may differ with the same Christian from one time to another. At conversion God has given to the believer all He has to give in germ, in earnest and in potentiality when He has given him His Holy Spirit. That Holy Spirit is not to be conceived of as coming again to the believer, for the reason that He has not left him for one moment: He has His home in the regenerate nature He has Himself implanted.
But it is true, on the other hand, that the activity of the Spirit increases and He enables the Christian, in the measure in which he yields to His ministry, to possess his possessions in Christ. That yielding may happen suddenly involving what is experienced as a crisis, but that is not to be regarded as a new visitation, but rather as a new manifestation.
On some occasions, perhaps for special tasks, the Spirit manifests the fullness of His power in a believer, such as was not experienced or manifested before. And, without doubt, in some believers, the indwelling Spirit is being constantly manifested more fully than in others. We must conclude therefore that the indwelling Spirit of God does on occasion so fill a man’s heart and life that there is a forth-putting of His power that is felt by others. Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians is certainly in point for each of us: ‘Be not filled with wine but be filled with the Spirit’. For this is the privilege and duty of all believers whether at Ephesus or Rome, or wherever they may be.
We conclude, therefore, that the Scriptures do not recognise two classes of believers who differ in their standing before God or their relationship to Him, whether we call them the consecrated or the unconsecrated, the Spirit-born or the Spirit-filled. In status and privilege they are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ. And ‘if sons, then heirs, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ’. Thus they are all, not only accepted, but acceptable in the Beloved. The highest attainment is within reach of all and is to be the aim of all, and the furthest declension into sin is possible to all whether he be a David, or a Peter, a saint ‘on a higher plane’ or an ordinary saint. Moreover victory today does not make us immune from attack tomorrow, nor is it the sure guarantee of victory again unless we ‘abide’ in Him and do His commandments. We thank God, through it all, that the Christ who is the ‘Author of faith’, the Giver of the faith that saves, is also the ‘Finisher’, the Sustainer to the end, of the faith that keeps.
Sinning Against the Spirit
While all sin may be said to be against the Spirit – against His patience, forbearance and compassion, against His mercy and grace and love, there are mentioned in Scripture certain sins which are specifically against the Spirit of God. We will consider each of these in turn.
(1) The sin of resisting the Spirit
This was Stephen’s charge against the rulers of the Jews: ‘Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost’ (Acts 7:51). This was manifestly a charge levelled against persistent unbelievers to whom the light of the gospel had come and who had refused its witness. We are, perhaps, warranted in confining this sin of resisting the Holy Ghost to such cases as we have here indicated. The Spirit in common grace operates towards all who hear the gospel, and when His overtures of mercy are repelled it is resistance of the Holy Ghost. Thus we have here what is specifically the sin of unbelievers under the gospel.
(2) The sin of grieving the Spirit
Paul warned the Ephesians: ‘Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace to the hearers, and grieve not the Holy Spirit whereby ye were sealed unto the day of redemption’ (4:30). Here we have a case of the indwelling Spirit, who seals the believers and makes their full redemption sure, being grieved by ‘corrupt communication’ which not only defiles the one who engages in it, but also contaminates the Christian fellowship. The love of the Spirit – a mother love! – is grieved by such conduct, and His witness may thus be silenced. And that means His witness both to sin and to holiness. Who can fully understand the tragedy and misery of a life in which the Holy Spirit is made silent? Who dare say how far a Christian may go in this perilous condition? It is a dangerous experiment to try!
(3) The sin of quenching the Spirit
To the Thessalonians, Paul gives the injunction: ‘Quench not the Spirit, despise not prophesyings’ (1 Thessalonians 5:19-20). The sequence of these two injunctions would seem to suggest that they are closely related, and that the despising of prophesying is the sin of quenching the Spirit. This means that when a message comes to us by a fellow-believer from the Spirit of God, and we despise that message, for reasons of pride, self-indulgence or rebellion, then we are quenching the Spirit in him so that he no longer feels at liberty to convey his message to us. In such a case, not only is the Spirit within ourselves being grieved, but the Spirit in our brethren is so quenched by our unresponsiveness that their fellowship is no longer a means of grace to us. Many Christians may be sitting under a gospel ministry in such a condition of pride, whether of intellect or heart, that they despise not only the messenger but his message, and so bring the judgement of a divine silence upon their own souls.
(4) The sin against the Spirit that is unforgivable
Christ’s words concerning the unforgivable sin are startling and penetrating, and they are echoed by John in his First Epistle, and by Paul and by the writer to the Hebrews. This sin is referred to by our Lord in Matthew 12:20-32, and in Mark 3:28-29, as ‘blasphemy against the Holy Ghost’ which ‘shall not be forgiven unto men’. John calls it a ‘sin unto death’ for which no prayer for forgiveness may be made (1 John 5:16). The writer to the Hebrews speaks of it as ‘crucifying unto themselves the Son of God afresh and putting Him to an open shame’ and as doing ‘despite unto the Spirit of grace’ (6:6; 10:29).
If we gather all these references together, there are certain conclusions which we think we are warranted to draw. It is evident that during the earthly ministry of Christ, this sin consisted of ascribing His miracles, demonstrably performed in the power of the Holy Ghost, to the agency of Satan. Yet if this sin applied only to the earthly ministry of Christ, the warnings in John and in Hebrews would seem unnecessary. Augustine and many others since his day, regarded it as the persistence of impenitence to the end of life, in which case all who persist in unbelief would be guilty of it. Scripture, on the other hand, makes it clear that it is a specific sin. We cannot harbour the thought that it refers to the true children of God, as this would be against the whole tenor of Scripture. What then can it be?
We conclude that it is not so much sin against the Person of the Spirit, as sin against His work and witness in the hearts and souls of men as He seeks to make known the grace and glory of the Lord Jesus. It presupposes two things, outwardly and objectively, a revelation of the grace of God in Christ, and inwardly and subjectively, an illumination and spiritual conviction that are clearly of the Spirit of God. It unfolds a condition of heart, that, having known and seen and experienced all this, denies the agency of God in it, contradicts the conviction given, and actually hates God for this manifestation that He has given of Himself, calling Him Satanic and attributing His work to Satan.
We thus come to the conclusion that the root of this sin is conscious and deliberate hatred of God and of all He has revealed to mind and heart and conscience as divine, and that it results in the condition of heart that calls evil good and good evil.
This sin is unpardonable, not because it transcends the merits of Christ’s blood, or because the sinner is beyond the regenerating power of the Holy Ghost, but because the state of heart and soul that accompanies pardon – confession, penitence, sorrow, prayer for mercy – is for ever absent. The conscience is seared, the spiritual feeling dead, the whole being engulfed in a stupor of indifference and unconcern. In such a condition there is apparently no room for repentance and no expectation of pardon.
If this be so, then it follows that anyone who is still under concern, who is prayerfully anxious about his relation to this sin and is still seeking God, has not committed the sin against the Holy Ghost.
Nevertheless, this solemn truth is revealed in Scripture, as a warning against trifling with sin, against knowingly indulging in sin, and against cherishing unbelief in defiance of the strivings of God and the light of His gospel. It is a perilous course for any man to turn away from the truth and turn his back upon such a light as God has given him, and God has left in His Word this beacon of warning telling men where and how souls are irretrievably and irrevocably lost. Conclusion
The love of the Spirit in man’s redemption is a wonderful truth revealed in Scripture. For what purpose? It is without doubt the fuller dimension of the glory of God, a ministry committed to the Holy Spirit in the gospel dispensation. And we know that his ministry will be fulfilled to the glory of God and the accomplishment of all His will. God’s purpose of grace, under the administration of the Holy Spirit, will not miscarry
God the Spirit is building the spiritual Temple in which this self-revelation of God shall take place. With infinite power and grace He is collecting stones from many an unlikely quarry. With infinite patience and love He is dressing and polishing them that they may be fit for their place. With infinite wisdom and skill He is even now, as He has been throughout the ages, building the walls of the Heavenly Temple of which the Lord Jesus Himself is Chief Corner Stone. And when that Temple is complete, it shall become the fit dwelling place of God through the Spirit, so that when the Lord God enters His Temple, every stone shall reflect His glory, and every soul shall catch and radiate a facet of His uncreated light.
We believe that when this happens, all the created intelligences of heaven shall gather round to witness this final consummation of the redemptive plan, and to admire God in His saints. Towards this great and blessed consummation the Spirit is even now working – ‘to the intent that unto the principalities and powers in the Heavenly places might be made known through the Church the manifold purpose of God’ (Ephesians 3:10-11).
Oh, the amazing love of the Spirit that makes this possible, that makes it actual, that begins the work, continues it, and perfects it in the day of Christ! ‘Unto Him be glory in the Church, by Christ Jesus, throughout all the ages, world without end. Amen.’