The Personal and Corporate Actions of the Holy Spirit: 1. The Holy Spirit as a Quickener and a Witness

 •  25 min. read  •  grade level: 8
“What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?”
“It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing; the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life (John 6:63).”
“But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins, sat down in perpetuity at the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected in perpetuity them that are sanctified.”
“Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us; for after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord: I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.”
“Now where remission of these is there is no more offering for sin (Heb. 10:12-18).”
In these two scriptures we find the two great truths which I desire to present to my reader —
1. The action of the Holy Spirit of God here on earth in quickening the souls of sinners, thus awakening them to the sense of their need in the sight of God; and —
2. His presence here on earth as a Witness to us of the perfection of the work of the Lord Jesus, and of its acceptance by God; thus providing an answer to the awakened soul by a testimony of the value of that work by which it is saved.
First of all, let us be clear as to the fact, that while the Son of God is the Actor by whom all divine actions are performed, the Spirit of God has always been the direct Agent in every action of the Godhead which has ever been done, whether of creation, or providence, or government, or redemption. We see references to this in all parts of scripture, even as to those actions which took place before the world was. In Genesis 1:14-19, where the appointment of the sun and the moon to rule the day and the night was made, we read of God having made these two great lights (the sun and the moon), “and the stars also.” And we read in Job (ch. 26:13) that the Spirit of God was the Agent in doing so, for “by his Spirit he hath garnished the heavens.” So also, when from the chaos of matter found in Genesis 1:1, God would form the Adamic earth as an abode for man, we read that ‘the Spirit of God brooded [or moved] upon the face of the waters.” He also filled Bezaleel, the son of Uri; and Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, with the Spirit of God, in wisdom and understanding and knowledge to do all the work of the tabernacle in which God was about to dwell in Israel. So also David had the pattern of the temple which Solomon built “by the Spirit” from God (1 Chron. 28:12). He came on the prophets; inspired the word of God; gave Samson his great strength; and, in short, all divine actions have ever been by the direct agency of the Holy Spirit. This is seen more fully when we come to the New Testament, both in the Lord’s ministry and acts of power (“by the Spirit of God cast out devils,” &c), as afterward in the church of God formed at Pentecost, which brings us down to the present interval. I only refer to these facts in passing, that we may have this great truth established in our minds, before we pass on to the special subject before us.
It will also be needful here to remark, that God had not fully revealed Himself in the OT days He is known there under various names, in connection with certain actions, and relationships entered into, whether in creation, or after the fall of man, or with individual souls of the elect, or with the nation of Israel — His elect earthly people. We find Him then as Elohim, and its derivatives; Jehovah, El Shaddai (Almighty God) Gnelion; Adonai, and its cognate words; as well as by other names.
Still, “One God” was the great truth presented, in contrast with the plurality of the God’s of the heathen; and to witness to this unity of the Godhead, Israel was chosen and called apart from the world: “Hear, O Israel; Jehovah, our God is one Jehovah (Deut. 6:4). But the Trinity of the Persons of the Godhead was not then the subject of direct revelation. There were hints as to it at all times; but the fact was not then made known. I might adduce many instances of this, such as the plural character of the name of Elohim — God; and also the thrice holy ascription of the seraphim in Isaiah 6 compared with John 12:39-41, and with Acts 28:25-27. See also Isaiah 48:16, “Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am I; and now the Lord God, and his Spirit hath sent me.” The triune Persons of the Godhead are here plainly seen
It was therefore reserved for the advent of the Son of God into this world, when He had definitely assumed manhood, and taken His place as man on earth, that the Trinity of the Persons of the Godhead should be made known. This took place at the moment when the Lord Jesus commenced His service on earth, at thirty years of age. The Baptist had been arousing Israel with the testimony of the solemn issues of his mission, and as the one who was going before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways. His cry to Israel was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The ax was laid at the root of the trees; it was not now the time of the lopping off of branches; the root was reached, and every tree which bore not good fruit was to be hewn down and cast into the fire. Judgment was impending over all. The Lord appeared amongst the crowd which came to be baptized of John — confessing their sins. John resents this approach of Jesus, “I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?” The Messiah could pardon sins; but could not confess them, for He had none. But grace was moving in the hearts of Israel. God had touched their souls; and instead of saying, “We have Abraham to our father,” they were accepting their true place of convicted sinners — having no title on any ground to the promises, but that of sovereign mercy. With this movement of grace in their souls Jesus identifies Himself. The sheep of Israel were in the waters; the Shepherd of Israel would be there too! And His reply to the Baptist is, “Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us [He and thee] to fulfill all righteousness;” you to receive Israel’s confession of their sins; I to go with the grace which brought them there; and to receive, and delight in them as the excellent of the earth (Psa. 16). Straightway the heavens were opened! An object worthy of all heaven was seen for the first time. The Lord as a man on earth receives the Spirit of God. He is sealed as man by the Holy Spirit — proof of the excellence and perfection of His Person, on which the Spirit could descend as a dove and abide, without blood-shedding or sacrifice. The Father’s voice is heard from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The whole Trinity is here first definitely made known — Father, Son, and Spirit — the Godhead’s glory is revealed, in the Trinity of the Persons by whom the operations of grace are performed.
But we must now retrace our steps a little, in order to ascertain the varied spheres in which the Spirit of God had wrought with men in former days. We must, therefore, go back to the days before the flood. Here we find that the strivings of God’s Spirit had for their object the whole race of man. During the one hundred and twenty years previous to that moment of judgment, the word was, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man” (Gen. 6:3). It could not be said at any subsequent period that the race was the subject of His strivings. Hence we can say there is now really no salvation for man as a race in scripture; while there is salvation for men. “He turneth man to destruction; but saith, return ye children of men” (Psa. 90:3).
That period of dealing passed away. His Spirit strove for that allotted time, and the flood of waters closed the scene. The race would no more be the subject of such grace. But when the earth renewed itself, and men again re-peopled its surface, and then were scattered at Babel for their pride, God called out one man (Abraham) and in him a nation, by whom and in whom a fresh dealing began. This was the fresh sphere in which or by which the Holy Spirit would again carry on His operations — either working within, amidst that people by the many ways of grace then used, or by that people to draw the nations of the earth to that center of God’s ways.
This fresh platform corrupted its way, and was cast forth out of the land of Canaan. Still, the word for faith was, “My Spirit remaineth among you; fear ye not” (Hag. 2:1). And the godly remnant was sustained in faith until Messiah came. When that time came, Jesus alone was the One to whom the Spirit is given without measure. He is the Center to whom all must now gather, in the ways of God. But, cast out and slain, He ascends to heaven, and receives the Holy Spirit afresh there from the Father, and “shed forth this [as said Peter on the day of Pentecost], which ye now see and hear” (Acts 2:32,33). This sending of the Spirit forms the disciples into a spiritual house on earth, a “Habitation of God through the Spirit,” which becomes (as it is still, though enlarged into Christendom) the fresh sphere of the operations of the Spirit of God. There is now no action of God’s Spirit directly from heaven, on the heathen around us. There is no action apart from that sphere where the Spirit of God now dwells. God works in it, or through it, wherever His work is done. Many instances may be adduced to illustrate this fact. God had lit up a light-bearer on the earth, to be the “Epistle of Christ, known and read of all men”: “A city set on a hill which could not be hid.” He owns no other light, and works through no other channel than the church of God. We see this in the Acts of the Apostles at the first, when this habitation of God was formed. The Jews must be convicted by the Holy Spirit from that platform, through the mouth of Peter, of their sin, and find God’s remedy for it, and come into God’s habitation. The Gentile (Acts 10) who had been hitherto drawn towards the God of Israel, and had loved His people, as the channel of mercy in a former day, must now “send for Peter” and “hear words of him” whereby “he and all his house should be saved.” The angel sent from heaven to him can only point to the true sphere on earth where salvation, would be found.
And although the church of God has corrupted her way in the earth, God knows no other channel to those “without,” nor sphere of action for His Spirit but “within,” where the good word of God is heard, and the operations of His Spirit are carried on. The heathen or the Jew, whenever reached by the word of the gospel, hears it through the testimony of Christianity. The professing Christian within that sphere is the object of the varied operations of the Spirit of God. We hear of a heathen, the chief man in —, who used to reason, “I made this canoe; some one formed the tree from which I made it,” but there his reasoning ended. The Christians had established a missionary settlement in those parts many years before, but had found no fruit. At last this man came to hear. He heard of a Creator God, and one who had given His Son when His creature fell. “Ah,” said he, “this is what I have been looking for,” and he embraced the gospel. He learns the truth through the light God had set up on earth. His reasoning prepared the way for the testimony of Christ and His word to shine in upon his heart; but he must learn it through God’s ordered way. Like the centurion of old, whose faith eventually rose above that of Israel (Luke 7), he had loved their nation, and had built them a synagogue; yet now that Christ had come, his faith was directed to a higher object, and he learns from Christ Himself of His grace.
We hear, too (to cite a case from “within”), of two miners who met one day in the depth of their mine in — , when one said to the other, “Do you know that there are people come about here preaching, who say you should know your sins forgiven in this life?” “Oh” said his fellow, “that is nonsense; no one could ever know that here.” They parted for the moment, but happened to meet again in the course of some days. “Do you know,” said one to the other, “I know my sins forgiven?” “You!” said his comrade; “impossible!” “Not at all,” said the other; “come and hear for yourself.” He came, and he, too learned the gospel! Here was one of the ten thousand cases “within,” as the other was from “without,” illustrating the sphere of action or channel of blessing, from which God does not depart while present things remain, even though the light is dim, and the candlestick no more shines with its early light. Still the Spirit of God remains and works, abiding in the church of God during her whole pathway here, though outwardly enlarged to Christendom.
I will now draw your attention to the way in which the promise of the Holy Spirit came out during the Lord’s sojourn with His people on earth; that “other Comforter,” who was to take His place amongst them —”in you” and “with you” — when the Lord Jesus was gone away. He would abide with them forever; while the Lord Jesus must depart after His short sojourn with them on earth. This comes out definitely in the gospel of John. In the gospel of Luke, when the hearts and the consciences are so much exercised by the Lord; and the needs of the soul are suggested in advance of their then state, we find the Lord, after teaching His disciples to pray (Luke 11), and by parables showing how that while man needed to be importuned to grant a request, when his own convenience was at stake, God as a Father to His own, would “how much more, give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him.” Thus, while in reality the Spirit was given in answer to the prayer of Jesus Himself to the Father (John 14), the Lord would produce desires in His people’s heart’s for what He was about to bestow.
When we turn to John 14, we learn that He was about to go away, and that ere He would return again to receive them to Himself, the Holy Spirit would be given to dwell with them — not for a few years, and then depart, as Jesus, but “forever.” “I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever. The Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him; but ye know him, for he dwelleth [or ‘shall dwell’] with you, and shall be in you (John 14:16, 17).” Again, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you of all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you (John 14:26).” In these passages we find the Lord praying the Father for the Holy Spirit to be given: and then the Father sending Him in the Son’s name.
In John 15:26, yet another step in advance of these, “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.” In this passage the Lord Jesus, gone on high, is the sender of the Holy Spirit Himself. “And when he is come he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. Of sin, because they believe not on me. Of righteousness, because I go unto my Father, and ye see me no more. Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged (John 16:8-11).” All this came to pass in Acts 2. When the “day of Pentecost was fully come they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, which filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues, like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them: and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.” And in explaining this, Peter says, “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore, being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear (Acts 2:32, 33,1-4).” Thus was the promise fulfilled — the Holy Spirit was sent, and filling each one, also filled all the house where they were sitting — forming these disciples into a habitation of God by the Spirit. This was from thenceforth that sphere in or through which, as we have seen the work of grace would be carried on on earth.
Now, the faculty in man in which, and by which, the Spirit works is the conscience; faith springs up in the soul thus wrought upon. The soul is thus alive to its true state, in some measure, before God. This is, in general, followed by great distress in the soul. But it is thus a proof of life being there, and as a consequence the soul turns to God, though in misery. There are times also when only the natural conscience of man is moved by the word or truth used by the Holy Spirit; and the effect then is to cause the soul to turn away from God. This is always the case where only the natural conscience of man is roused. The case of Adam when he fell, and ate the forbidden fruit, proves this. He became as God, knowing good and evil. This was conscience; the principle he received when he fell, and when he accepted his responsibility in eating the fruit which was forbidden. It was the interdict given of God to be the test if his will would be subject to his Creator or not. The man and his wife fell — the sense of guilt and nakedness was theirs, and as they cannot change it they seek to hide it from each other. This being done, they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hide from God. This is the effect of the word on the natural conscience of the sinner: it drives him away from God. But the moment God speaks to the man — “Adam, where art thou?” — the conscience is wrought upon by the word of God, and they come forth — guilty and naked, yet they are drawn towards Him.
This will be found the constantly-presented fact in scripture, especially when conscience is directly before us in God’s dealings in the New Testament. When awakened or quickened it draws towards God, but often in misery. When unawakened, the effect of God’s word, or the current truths of it, drives it away from Him even farther than before; and man’s heart keeps him away from God. The case of the prodigal son, so full of divine instruction for us, shows us the effect of the awakening of the soul when absorbed in the wretchedness of the far country of this world. “When he came to himself “the sense of his condition reached his conscience, and at once the sense of goodness in God springs up in his soul, and he is drawn towards Him, yet in deep self-judgment and misery. He finds no answer to this awakening of soul until he meets the Father; then all is settled by the Father. “God is love,” and “God is light”; the only two things He is said to be. These answer to the heart and conscience in man. The light deals with the conscience, and exposes our true state as sinners in God’s sight; but the love attracts the heart, and draws out hope in Him in the soul. One or other may and does preponderate before God is fully known in Christ; and the soul is swayed between the two until then. The light presses upon the conscience of the prodigal, and shows him his unfitness; but the love sends him on his way to meet the Father. All the while the Father had anticipated all, and was ready to meet both the conscience and the heart with the answer they required. Many instances are found in the word of God as to this work of the Holy Spirit, and many are seen around us every day.
But at times the natural conscience is wrought upon for a while by the Spirit, and like Herod, in whom we see a man who, by hearing John Baptist preaching, “did many things and heard him gladly” (Mark 6), yet returned to his lusts and beheaded John; and when Christ stood before his judgment-seat (Luke 23) was given over to these lusts, and Christ answered him never a word. He was silent towards him, as one whose day was past.
Now in these truths we find the action of the Spirit of God upon souls in awakening them to a sense of their state before God; a needful and preparatory action to that of witnessing to that work of Christ, which provides an answer to the need thus produced.
We will now examine the truth presented in the second scripture quoted at the head of this paper. Of the first we have already treated, by showing the action of the Holy Spirit as a quickener, producing life in the soul of the sinner by a work in the conscience, effected by the word of God, the flesh profiting nothing. “The words that I speak unto you [said the Lord] they are spirit, and they are life.”
As to the second, we will turn to the Epistle to the Hebrews — which we might characterize generally as God’s acceptance of the work of Christ, and the Holy Spirit’s witness on earth of this great truth. Hebrews 9 is occupied specially in contrasting the old oft-repeated typical ritual in Israel with the one perfect work of Christ, which obtained eternal redemption for us by His offering Himself through the eternal Spirit without spot to God once and for all. In the close of this chapter we find Him represented as appearing in three distinct ways. In Hebrews 9:26 we read, “Now once, in the consummation of the ages, hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” Then in Hebrews 9:24, “For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.” And in Hebrews 9:28, “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many, and to them that look for him shall he appear the second time, without sin unto salvation.” The first of these “appearings,” was at the work of the cross, when the whole trial of the first man was over, there to accomplish that work, the final results of which will be seen in the state of eternal blessedness, in the new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. The second is now aging on; He appears before the face of God for all who believe. And the third: His being seen by every eye, at His second coming, will be to introduce us into the result of all His work. This third appearing is manifestly future.
In the two last verses of this chapter we find the state of sinful man contrasted with that of those who believe. One verse (Heb. 9:27) begins with “As,” and the other with “So,” placing each in contrast with the other, “As it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment.” Here we find the two solemn certainties which fill the heart of man with terror — “Death,” and then the “judgment.” What worlds would not man give to escape these terrible realities! Then come the two blessed certainties for those who believe — “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many, and to them that look for him shall he appear the second time, without sin unto salvation.” Blessed certainties indeed! The full result of His first coming known, and our sins borne, and put away forever! The final result of His second coming presented for our hope; He will come again, apart from all question then of sin, for full and final salvation! We are placed, then, between the first and second comings of the Lord; cleared from our guilt by His first coming and His cross; the heart then set upon Him who is coming again to take us into the fruition of all.
With these two thoughts before us, we will read the next chapter aright. It opens with the grand results of His first coming, and work accomplished then, and closes with the hope of His return: “For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry” (Heb. 10:37).” But in the interval between these points, we find from this chapter how the Holy Spirit is a witness to us” here below of the perfections of all. He calls upon our consciences to look back on the work of Jesus on the cross, and to know that the worshiper once purged should have no more conscience of sins. He leads us to look up into the holiest of all, and to enter there, by faith and at rest, to praise our God; and He leads the heart to look forward to that moment when Christ will come again, and the affections are at rest.
How blessed! to have a Divine Person here as truly as it was so when the Lord Himself was here on earth, bearing testimony to us — to every burdened, awakened soul — Your sins and iniquities will I remember no more!” How sweet for such to bow to this assurance from this faith-worthy Witness! We need not search our own poor hearts for such a testimony — they will but tell the opposite tale. A Divine Person sent from heaven to dwell on earth; to bear witness that the one perfect work of Christ is accepted of God, instead of the works of our ruined souls; to lead our hearts, out of ourselves, to behold in Him the divinely-given answer to our guilt. Here we may rest in the full assurance of faith — assured of God that our sins and iniquities are remembered no more. This requires no experience in us to realize; it needs but that the soul should turn to God, who thought of us when ruined and lost; to His Son who came to accomplish all His will, who, when He had done so, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; and to the Holy Spirit who was sent from the Father and the Son to bring the news of God — Father, Son, and Spirit, being all “for us,” giving our souls perfect and eternal rest!
Leading us, too, to look, with souls at rest, for Him who shall come again to take us to be with Him and like Him forever!
It is thus, dear reader, that the Holy Spirit not only awakens our souls to this need of a Savior, but becomes Himself the witness to us of that Savior’s work, answering, the awakened conscience with that which alone can purge our sins, and cleanse our consciences, and make us as white as snow.
Words of Faith, 1883, p.. 113-125.