THE WORK OF THE SPIRIT AS THE COMFORTER

Taken and adapted from, “The office and work of the Holy Spirit”
Chapter V, The work of the Spirit as the Comforter
Written by, James Buchannan

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Our blessed Lord intimated to his disciples before his departure, that he would not leave them desolate, or orphans…

…but would send them the Holy Spirit that he might abide with them forever; and he spoke of the Spirit as a paraclete (an expression which has been translated in our version—a comforter, but which admits of being rendered—an Advocate, or monitor), whose office it should be to plead the cause and to secure the welfare of his people in various ways, by helping their infirmities, guiding them into all truth, strengthening them against the assaults of temptation, sustaining them under the pressure of trial, and aiding them in the exercise of prayer. It is the less necessary to dwell on the mere meaning of that expression, because unquestionably in other places the Spirit is represented as executing the office of a Comforter, as when the apostle says, “Now the God of hope fill you with all peace and joy in believing, that ye may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost.” (Rom. 15:3.) The peace, and joy, and hope which are here mentioned, are the constituent elements of that comfort which God has provided for his people; and elsewhere they are severally described as being of inestimable value—fruits alike sweet and precious of the riches of his grace; for this peace is called “the very peace of God which passes all understanding;” and this joy is said to be “a joy unspeakable and full of glory;” and this hope is “a living, a lively hope, an anchor to the soul both sure and steadfast, entering into that which is within the veil.”

It may be useful to direct your thoughts—to the source of this comfort; to the method in which it is bestowed; to the various degrees in which it may be enjoyed; and to the duty which is implied in the apostle’s prayer, of seeking “to be filled with all peace and joy in believing, and to abound in hope.”

I. With reference to the source of this comfort, it is important to remark, that the peace, and joy, and hope in which it consists, are severally ascribed in Scripture to each of the Three Persons in the Godhead, and is represented as flowing to us out of the various offices which they execute under the covenant of redemption.

God himself is the author of this comfort—the inexhaustible fountain of his goodness being the source whence it proceeds; but it is not as the God of nature and providence,—the Creator, Preserver, and Governor of the world,—it is as the God of grace and redemption that he imparts it to his people. It is to God in his covenant relation as God in Christ—the reconciler and the Savior of the guilty, that the apostle refers, when he speaks of him “as the God of hope,” and as “the God of patience and consolation;” and more expressly still in another place, where he says, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.”—As God is the author of this comfort, so it comes to us in and through Christ as the Mediator of the new covenant. He was sent “to preach peace to them that were afar off, and to them that were near.” He is himself ” our peace,” as he is “the propitiation for our sins;” for “being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Christ is “the Prince of peace,” and his Gospel is “the gospel of peace;” and he was sent at once to procure and to proclaim that reconciliation on which our peace, and joy, and hope depend: “He hath anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted,”—” to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” And, accordingly, both the Father and the Son are conjoined in the apostle’s prayer—” Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts, and establish you in every good word and work.”—But this comfort, flowing from God himself as its source, and through Christ the Mediator of the new covenant as the channel by which it is conveyed to us, is applied to our hearts by the gracious agency and inward operation of the Holy Spirit. The apostle prays for the Roman converts, that they might be “filled with all peace and joy in believing, and abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost;” and of the primitive believers we read, that they “walked in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost.”

The Spirit’s love as a Comforter is manifested in various ways. For first, It was the Spirit with which Christ himself was anointed, and by which he was qualified, in respect of his human nature, for the execution of his great design—” The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, for he hath anointed me to preach;” —secondly, It was the Spirit who dictated the whole of that message of grace and mercy which is contained in the Gospel, for “holy men of old spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost;” and to him, therefore, is to be gratefully ascribed every consolation which the Gospel imparts, and every hope which it inspires;—and thirdly, It is the Spirit who, by his continued agency in the Church, and his internal operation on the minds of believers, enables them to understand the gracious import, and to feel the blessed influence of the Gospel, so that they are “filled with all peace and joy in believing, and abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost.”

Such is the view which is given in Scripture of the source or origin of the comfort that is here spoken of; it is ascribed to each of the Three Persons of the Godhead, and represented as flowing to us out of the various offices which they fulfil under the covenant of redemption; and by this view, two reflections are suggested which may be briefly noticed: the first is— how gracious and lovely is the aspect in which God’s character is presented, when each Person in the Godhead is declared to be so much interested, not only in the safety, but in the comfort and happiness of his people; and the second is—how sweet and comfortable is the dispensation under which we are placed, seeing that it is alike fitted and designed to Jill us with all peace and joy in believing, so that we may abound in hope through the power of the Spirit of God. If, then, the Father be the very God of peace, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; and if his beloved Son be the Prince of peace; and if the Holy Spirit be the Comforter, the Spirit of all grace and consolation; and if the Gospel be indeed, as its very name imports, glad tidings of great joy,—it follows, that however, from the operation of other causes, such as the remaining darkness of their understandings, or the unsubdued corruption of their hearts, or the weakness of their faith, or the strength of their temptations, or the number and weight of their trials, God’s people may sometimes have their peace disturbed, yet, in its native tendency and proper effect, the Gospel is fitted to produce and sustain “a peace which passes all understanding,” and “a joy which is unspeakable and full of glory.” And if any of his people are “for a season in heaviness through manifold temptations,” “walking in darkness, and having no light,” they may rest assured that their want of present comfort arises from no defect in Christ’s Gospel, and still less from any indifference to their real welfare on the part of God;—on the contrary, God is “the comforter of those who are cast down;” and it is only, “if need be,” and with a view to their ultimate good, that he subjects them for a season to this sore discipline,—taking them, as it were, for a little time into the wilderness, that he may there speak comfortably unto them.

II. Having seen that God in Christ is the inexhaustible source of that comfort which is imparted to his people by the agency of the Spirit; it will be of considerable practical importance to consider the means and method by which the Holy Spirit fulfils this precious and endearing part of his work.

It were a dangerous error to suppose that the Spirit comforts his people, by infusing peace and joy and hope into their hearts, without the use of the ordinary means of grace, or separate and apart from his other fruits and operations, as their Teacher and Sanctifier. He acts in this, as in every other part of his work, in a way that is consistent with the laws, and adapted to the necessities of our moral nature; and his work is not divided; its various parts may be distinctly considered, but they never exist separately from each other; they constitute one grand work by which our happiness is secured while our holiness is advanced. The Spirit comforts his people by means of the truth revealed in his Word,—enabling them to understand its import, to feel its power, and especially to apply it, in the exercise of an appropriating faith, to the case of their own souls. That the Gospel, or the truth contained in the Gospel, is the instrumental means by which the Spirit comforts his people, appears from the apostle’s prayer above quoted, for he prays that they might be “filled with all peace and joy in believing;” and from his language in another place, “For whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” David, too, refers to the same means of consolation, when he says, “This is my comfort in mine affliction; for thy Word hath quickened me.”

He begins to impart this comfort at the very time of a sinner’s conversion; for no sinner is converted until he is so far enlightened in the knowledge of Christ as a Savior, and persuaded of the certainty and freeness of the Gospel, as to feel that he may, as a sinner, guilty and helpless as he is in himself, venture, on a scriptural warrant, to put his own personal trust in Christ, and to draw near to God through him, in the humble hope, that ” whosoever cometh shall in nowise be cast out;” and there is enough in these, the simplest elements of Gospel truth, to impart immediate relief and comfort to the sinner’s heart,—insomuch, that, like the Ethiopian treasurer, he may, from that hour, “go on his way rejoicing.” For the Gospel of Christ is really a Gospel—good news, glad tidings of great joy—addressed as it is, not to the innocent, but to the guilty,—and affording, as it does, to every man that is a sinner, and just because he is a sinner, a divine warrant, to return unto the Lord, in the assurance that he will have mercy upon him, even to our God, who will abundantly pardon. But while, from the beginning of his Christian course, the believer may taste and see that the Lord is gracious, and may experience that measure of peace, and joy, and hope, which the simplest elements of divine truth, when rightly apprehended, and really believed, are fitted to inspire; his comfort, like every other fruit of the Spirit, admits of growth and increase, and is advanced in proportion as he acquires larger and clearer views of the truth as it is in Jesus. The believer’s comfort is often, for a time, weak and fluctuating,—just because his views of divine truth are dim and indistinct; but as these become, under the teaching of the Spirit, more clear and comprehensive, his comfort also becomes more settled and stable. Every new view which he obtains of the character of God, as it is displayed in the cross of Christ,—every new proof of his wisdom, and justice, and love, in the work of redemption, and especially in his dealings towards his own soul,—every fresh experience of the power of God’s truth,—must increase that comfort, which even his first faint glimpse of these things imparted to his heart; and it is in this way, and especially by enlightening him more fully in the knowledge of Christ, that the Spirit comforts his people, as we learn from that remarkable prayer of the apostle—” For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.” Mark here,

(1.) That even true converts, genuine believers in Christ, are as yet comparatively ignorant of the boundless love of Christ.

(2.) That they must be strengthened by the Spirit in the inner man, in order to form any suitable conception of it.

(3.) That a knowledge of Christ’s love is slowly and gradually acquired in the course of Christian experience; for Christ must dwell in our hearts by faith, and we must be rooted and grounded in love, in order to comprehend it.

(4.) That, after all, they never can exhaust a subject which is in itself inexhaustible: it has a height and a depth in it “which passes knowledge.” And,

(5.) To know Christ’s- love, as the Spirit only can make us know it, is the means of a comfort as full as it is sweet: it is to “be filled with all the fullness of God.” In this manner, the Spirit comforts his people, by disclosing to them the fullness that is in Christ, and the freeness with which his privileges are bestowed; for ” we have received,” says the apostle, “not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things which are freely given to us of God.”

It is of great practical importance to remember, that all genuine evangelical comfort has its ground and warrant in the revealed truth of God; for then it is not delusive and groundless, like the false security of those who say, “Peace, peace, while there is no peace,”— but it is stable, and sound, and permanent, in proportion to the strength of the ground on which it rests.

Again, the Holy Spirit provides for the comfort of his people—by sanctifying them. We read of two kinds of rest which Christ proposes to us in the Gospel; and these two are not only inseparably conjoined in Scripture, but will be found, in experience, to be very intimately connected. The first is the rest of justification or pardon, of which Christ speaks when, addressing the guilty sinner, laden with the burden of his sins, he says, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest;” He will take the burden of guilt away; He will abundantly pardon;—but the second is the rest of sanctification—” Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

This comfort arises from the subjugation of our unholy passions, and the substitution, in their room, of the gracious fruits of the Spirit; which are essentially, in their own nature, as peaceful as they are lovely, —and not only conducive to our happiness, but its constituent elements. It is only necessary to enumerate them, and to contrast them with their opposites, to see that, in their own nature, and apart from all arbitrary rewards or punishments, they are essentially and inherently blissful. Mark the contrast, as it is drawn by the apostle—” The works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like.”— “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” The mere enumeration of these opposite qualities of character should be sufficient to convince you, that the graces of the Spirit are fitted, in their own nature, to minister to your comfort; and we have the Lord’s own assurance that every beatitude stands connected with one or other of these graces,—when he says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.”

The Spirit comforts us, then, by carrying on the great work of sanctification; but it is no part of his office to comfort us ” in our sins ;” and it is still true, as it ever was, that the wicked are as a raging sea, when it cannot rest; for “there is no peace, saith my God, to the Wicked.”

Again, the Spirit comforts his people, by disclosing to them, and enabling them to discern such marks and evidences of a work of grace in their hearts, as may afford a comfortable assurance of their sonship, and awaken a cheering hope of future glory. “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirits that we are the children of God; and if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ.” Here, too, the Spirit acts as our Comforter, — not by making known our election with an audible voice, or revealing anything that may not be gathered from the Word, when viewed in connection with our own experience, —but simply by producing his gracious fruits, and then enabling us to discern them as so many scriptural marks and evidences of our conversion. For it is the presence of the Spirit in our hearts, evinced by the change which his power produces there, which is the witness or evidence of our sonship: “Hereby we know that we dwell in God; because he has given us of his Spirit,”—and “he that hath wrought us for the self-same thing is God, who also has given to us the earnest of his Spirit,”—and “ye are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance, until the redemption of the purchased possession.”

I need not say that it is no part of the Spirit’s work, as a Comforter, to exempt his people from trials; on the contrary, they seem to be subjected to afflictions at once more numerous and severe than are those of the men of this world; for, in addition to disease, and bereavement, and disappointment, which they share in common with others, they are exposed to trials which are peculiar to themselves: some inward, arising from the exercise of their own minds—the warfare in which they are engaged—the discipline to which, if need be, they are subjected, for their trial, and humiliation, and establishment; and others outward, arising from the obloquy and opposition—the ridicule or persecution of the world. But here is the mystery of their peace: it is peace in the midst of trouble,—joy in the midst of sorrow. “In the world,” says the Savior, “ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world ;”—and hence the apostle could say, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.”

III. The comfort of which we have spoken, arising from our views of God’s truth, the sanctification of our nature, and the inward witness of the Spirit,—may exist in various degrees, according to the greater or less extent of our spiritual attainments; and this is intimated to us, as well as the duty of seeking for a large measure of evangelical comfort, in the apostle’s prayer—” The God of hope fill you with all peace and joy in believing; that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.”

From the manner in which this prayer is expressed, we may learn that there is an intimate and mutual relation betwixt the constituent elements, of which the Christian’s comfort is composed; that there must first be present peace and joy in believing, before we can experience the lively hope which respects our future prospects; as it will invariably be found, that there is no real hope of eternal life hereafter, until we are enabled so to believe the Gospel, as to enjoy some measure of peace now. Those, therefore, who complain of the want of confidence, should be directed, in the first instance, to those simple elements of Gospel truth, which are fitted to give immediate relief and comfort to the sinner; and those, again, who have experienced some small measure of peace, and have been enabled, occasionally, to look forward with something like hope to the future, should be encouraged to seek after larger measures of these blissful feelings;— so that, “being filled with all peace and joy in believing, they may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost.” This is alike their duty and their privilege : it is their duty—since God himself requires them “to give all diligence to make their calling and election sure;” and it is their privilege—for this abundant consolation, and this good hope through grace, are declared to be attainable; and every believer will acknowledge that they are most desirable. And He who is revealed as “the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort,” is not unwilling to give the Spirit to them that ask him; nor is the Spirit unwilling to impart his consolations,—for he is ” the good Spirit” —” the Spirit of all grace,”—who is “grieved” when his consolations are slighted, and ever ready to bind up the broken-hearted,—to comfort all that mourn.” But while we are encouraged by these considerations to expect and seek for a larger measure of peace, and joy, and hope, than we have yet experienced, we must ever remember that they are to be sought for in the way of duty, and in the use of the ordinary means of grace. It is, first, by faith—by believing the testimony of God in the Gospel; and secondly, by “diligence in duty,” giving all diligence to make our calling and election sure; and thirdly, by prayer for ourselves and for others;—it is by these and similar means that we may expect to realize what the apostle supplicated on behalf of his converts, when he prayed for them— “The God of hope fill you with all peace and joy in believing; that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.”

And now on a calm and comprehensive review of all that has been said concerning the Work of the Holy Spirit, both in the Conversion of Sinners, and in the Edification of His people, how appropriate to the case of every reader, whatever may be his character, are these prayers of David: “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me by thy free Spirit.” “Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God: thy Spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness.”

DO YOU HAVE THE PRESENCE OF THE HEAVENLY FIRE?

Taken and adapted from, “The Bruised Reed”
Written by Richard Sibbs.

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First, if there be any holy fire in us, it is kindled from heaven by the Father of lights, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness’ (2 Cor. 4: 6).

As it is kindled by the use of means, so it is fed. The light in us and the light in the Word spring the one from the other and both from the one Holy Spirit. Therefore, in the case of those that regard not the Word, it is `because there is no light in them’ (Isaiah 8:20). Heavenly truths must have a heavenly light to discern them. Natural men see heavenly things, not in their own proper light, but by an inferior light. In every converted man, God puts a light into the eye of his soul proportionable to the light of truths revealed to him. A carnal eye will never see spiritual things.

Second, the least divine light has heat with it in some measure.

Light in the understanding produces heat of love in the affections. In the measure that the sanctified understanding sees a thing to be true or good, in that measure the will embraces it. Weak light produces weak inclinations, strong light, strong inclinations. A little spiritual light is of strength enough to answer strong objections of flesh and blood, and to see beyond all earthly allurements and opposing hindrances, presenting them as far inferior to those heavenly objects it beholds. All light that is not spiritual, because it lacks the strength of sanctifying grace, yields to every little temptation, especially when it is fitted and suited to personal inclinations. This is the reason why Christians that have light that is little for quantity, but heavenly for quality, persevere, when men of larger apprehensions sink. This prevailing of light in the soul is because, together with the spirit of illumination, there goes, in the godly, a spirit of power (2 Tim. 1:7) to subdue the heart to truth revealed, and to put a taste and relish into the will, suitable to the sweetness of the truth; otherwise a will that is merely natural will rise against supernatural truths, as having an antipathy and enmity against them. In the godly, holy truths are conveyed by way of a taste; gracious men have a spiritual palate as well as a spiritual eye. Grace alters the spiritual taste.

Third, where this heavenly light is kindled, it directs in the right way.

For it is given for that use, to show us the best way, and to guide us in the particular passages of life; otherwise, it is but common light, given only for the good of others. Some have light of knowledge, yet follow not that light, but are guided by carnal reason and policy, such as those the prophet speaks of, `All ye that kindle a fire . . . walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow’ (Isaiah 50:11). God delights to confound carnal wisdom, as enmity to him, and robbing him of his prerogative, who is God only wise. We must, therefore, walk by his light, not the blaze of our own fire. God must light our candle (Psalm 18:28) or else we will abide in darkness. Those sparks that are not kindled from heaven are not strong enough to keep us from lying in sorrow, though they make a greater blaze and show than the light from above, as madmen do greater things than sober men, but by a false strength: so the excess of these men’s joy arises from a false light. `The light of the wicked shall be put out’ (Job 18:5). The light which some men have is like lightning which, after a sudden flash, leaves them more in darkness. They can love the light as it shines, but hate it as it discovers and directs. A little holy light will enable us to keep Christ’s Word, and not betray religion nor deny his name, as Christ speaks of the church of Philadelphia (Rev. 3:8).

Fourth, where this fire is, it will sever things of diverse natures, and show a difference between such things as gold and dross.

It will sever between flesh and spirit, and show that this is of nature, this of grace. All is not ill in a bad action, or good in a good action. There is gold in ore, which God and his Spirit in us can distinguish. A carnal man’s heart is like a dungeon, wherein nothing is to be seen but horror and confusion. This light makes us judicious and humble, upon clearer sight of God’s purity and our own uncleanness, and makes us able to discern the work of the Spirit in another.

Fifth, so far as a man is spiritual, so far is light delightful to him.

He is willing to see anything amiss that he may reform, and any further service discovered that he may perform, because he truly hates ill and loves good. If he goes against light discovered, he will soon be reclaimed, because light has a friendly party within him. Therefore, at a little sight of his error, he is soon open to counsel, as David was in his intention to kill Nabal; and he blessed God afterwards, when he was stopped in an ill way (1 Sam. 25:32).

In the case of a carnal man, the light breaks in on him, but he labors to block its entrance. He has no delight in coming to the light. It is impossible, before the Spirit of grace has subdued the heart, that it should not sin against the light, either by resisting it, or keeping it prisoner under base lusts and burying it, as it were, in the earth, or perverting it, and so making it an agent and factor for the flesh, in searching out arguments to plead for it, or abusing that little measure of light men have, so as to keep out a greater, higher, and more heavenly light. So, at length, they make the light they have a misleading guide to utter darkness. And the reason is because the light has no friend within. The soul is in a contrary frame, and light always hinders that sinful peace that men are willing to promise themselves. Hence we see that light often enrages men more, as the sun in spring time brings on feverish illnesses when it stirs up bodily ills rather than overcoming them.

There is nothing in the world more uneasy than the heart of a wicked man made to listen to spiritual instruction, until, like a thief, he puts out the candle so that he may sin with less restraint. Spiritual light is distinct. It apprehends spiritual good and applies it to ourselves; but common light is confused, and lets sin lie quiet. Where fire is, in any degree, it will fight everything contrary to it. God put irreconcilable hatred between light and darkness from the first; so also between good and ill, flesh and Spirit (Gal. 5:17). Grace will never join with sin, any more than fire with water. Fire will mingle with nothing contrary, but preserves its own purity, and is never corrupted as other elements are. Therefore, those that plead and plot for liberties for the flesh show themselves strangers from the life of God. Feeling this strife, gracious men often complain that they have no grace. But they contradict themselves in their complaints, as if a man that sees should complain he cannot see, or complain that he is asleep; whereas the very complaint, springing from a displeasure against sin, shows that there is something in him opposite to sin. Can a dead man complain? Some things, though bad in themselves, yet reveal good, as smoke reveals the presence of fire. A violent reaction in the body shows bodily vigor. Some infirmities show more good than some seemingly beautiful actions. Excess of passion in opposing evil, though not to be justified, yet shows a better spirit than a calm temper where there is just cause of being moved. It is better that the water should run somewhat muddily than not run at all. Job had more grace in his ill temper than his friends in their seemingly wise demeanor. Actions stained with some defects are more acceptable than empty compliments.

Sixth, fire, where it is present, is in some degree active.

So the least measure of grace works, as springing from the Spirit of God, who, from his operations, is compared to fire. Even in sins, when there seems nothing active but corruption, there is a contrary principle, which breaks the force of sin, so that it is not boundlessly sinful, as in those that are carnal (Rom. 7:13).

Seventh, fire makes metals pliable and malleable.

So grace, where it is given, makes the heart pliable and ready to receive all good impressions. Obstinate spirits show that they are not so much as smoking flax.

Eighth, fire, as much as it can, sets everything on fire.

So grace labors to produce a gracious impression in others, and make as many good as it can. Grace also makes a gracious use even of natural and civil things, and spiritualizes them. What another man does only in a civil way a gracious man will do holily. Whether he eats or drinks or whatsoever he does, he does all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31), making everything serviceable to that ultimate end.

Ninth, sparks by nature fly upwards.

So the Spirit of grace carries the soul heaven ward and sets before us holy and heavenly aims. As it was kindled from heaven, so it carries us back to heaven. The part follows the whole: fire mounts upward, so every spark to its own element. Where the aim and bent of the soul is towards God, there is grace, though opposed. The least measure of it is seen in holy desires, springing from faith and love, for we cannot desire anything which we do not believe first to be, and the desire of it issues from love. Hence desires are counted a part of the thing desired, in some measure.

But these desires must be

(1) constant, for constancy shows that they are supernaturally  natural, and not enforced;

(2) directed to spiritual things, such as to believe, to love God, not because of a particular emergency, in that one thinks one might escape some danger if one had grace, but as a loving heart is carried to the thing loved for the sake of some excellency in it;

(3) accompanied with grief when the desire is hindered, so as to stir us up to pray: `Oh that my ways were directed that I might keep thy statutes!’ (Psa. 119:5); `O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me?’ (Rom. 7:24); and

(4) such desires as drive us onward still: `Oh, that I might serve God with more liberty. Oh, that I were more free from these offensive, unsavory, hateful lusts!’

Tenth, fire, if it has any matter to feed on, enlarges itself and mounts higher and higher, and, the higher it rises, the purer is the flame.

So where true grace is, it grows in measure and purity. Smoking flax will grow to a flame; and, as it increases, so it discards what is contrary to itself and refines itself more and more. Ignis, quo magis lucet, eo minus fumat (As fire gives more light, it gives less smoke). Therefore, it argues a false heart to set ourselves a low standard in grace and to rest in beginnings, alleging that Christ will not quench the smoking flax. This merciful disposition in Christ is joined with perfect holiness, shown in perfect hatred to sin; for, rather than that sin should not have its deserved punishment, he became a sacrifice for sin. In this his Father’s holiness and his own shone most of all. And besides this, in the work of sanctification, though he favors his work in us, yet he does not favor sin in us; for he will never take his hand from his work, until he has taken away sin, even in its very being, from our natures.

The same Spirit that purified his holy human nature cleanses us by degrees to be suitable to so holy a Head, and frames the judgment and affections of all to whom he shows mercy to concur with his own, in laboring to further his end of abolishing sin out of our natures.

THE SEALING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

Taken and adapted from, “The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit”
Written by, B. B. Warfield

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“And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, in whom ye were sealed unto the day of redemption.”
–Eph. 4:30

It is Paul’s custom in his epistles to prepare for exhortation by the enunciation of truth…

…to lay first the foundation of fact and doctrine, and on that foundation to raise his appeals for conduct. The Epistle to the Ephesians is no exception to this rule. The former chapters of this epistle are a magnificent exposition of doctrine, a noble presentation to Paul’s readers of what God has done for them in election and redemption and calling, and of the great privileges which they have obtained in Christ. To this he adjoins, according to his custom, a ringing appeal, based on this exposition of truth and privilege. This appeal to his readers is to live up to their privileges, or, in his own words, to walk worthily of the calling wherewith they were called. The whole latter or practical part of the letter is thus expressly based on the former or doctrinal part. And this is true of the exhortations in detail as well as in general. Paul wrote always with vital connectedness. There never was a less artificial writer, and none of his epistles bears more evident traces than the Epistle to the Ephesians of having been written, as the Germans say, “at a single gush.” All here is of a piece, and part is concatenated with part in the intimate connection which arises out of—not artificial effort to obtain logical consecution—but the living flow of a heart full of a single purpose.

Take, as an example, the beautiful appeal of our text. The Apostle is not perfunctorily or mechanically repeating a set phrase, a pious platitude. He is making an appeal, out of a full heart, to just the readers he has in mind, in just their situation; and under the impulse of his own vivid appreciation of their peculiar state and condition. On the basis of the privileges they had received in Christ he had exhorted them generally to an accordant inner and outer conduct; and he had presented these general exhortations both positively and negatively. Now he has come to details. He has enumerated several of the sins to which they in their situation were liable, perhaps, in a special degree, sins of falsehood, wrath, theft, unbecoming speech. Shall they, they, the recipients of this new life and all these Divine favors, fall into such sins? He suddenly broadens the appeal into an earnest beseeching not so to grieve the Holy Spirit of God in whom they were sealed unto the day of redemption. That they, too, had this sealing, had he not just told them? Nay, had he not just pointed them to it as to their most distinguishing grace? It is not by a new or a merely general motive by which he would move their hearts. It is distinctly by the motive to which he had already adverted and which he had made their own. It was because he had taught them to understand and feel that they, even they, Gentiles according to the flesh, had been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, as an earnest of their inheritance, and could count on this being a living and moving motive in their minds—or rather it is because he himself felt this great truth as real and as a motive of power—that he adduces it here to move them to action.

If we are to feel the motive power in the appeal as Paul felt it and as he desired his readers to feel it, we must approach it as he approached it and as he desired them to approach it, namely, through a preliminary apprehension and appreciation of the fact underlying the appeal and giving it force. To do this we should approach the consideration of the text under some such logical analysis of its contents as the following. First, we should consider the great fact on which the appeal is based, namely, that Christians have been sealed by the Holy Spirit unto the day of redemption. Secondly, we should consider the nature of this sealing Spirit as the Holy Spirit, and the pain which all sin must bring to Him as the indwelling and sealing Spirit. Thirdly, we should consider the nature and strength of the motive thence arising to us, who are the recipients of His grace, to refrain from the sin which grieves Him, and to seek the life of holiness which pleases Him. Time would fail us, however, on this occasion fully to develop the contents of these propositions. Let us confine ourselves to a few brief remarks on (1) the nature of the basal fact on which Paul founds his appeal, as to our position as Christians; and (2) the nature of the motive which he seeks to set in action by his appeal.

The fundamental fact on which Paul, in the text, bases his appeal to a holy life is that his readers, because they are Christians, “have been sealed in the Holy Spirit unto the day of redemption.” Now, “sealing” expresses authentication or security, or, perhaps, we may say, authentication and security. It is, then, the security of the Christian’s salvation which is the fact appealed to; the Christian is “sealed,” authenticated as a redeemed one, and made secure as to the completion of the redemption; for he is sealed unto the day of redemption.

The reference to Paul’s teaching, in a former chapter, as to the grace given to his readers, will help us to understand the fact here adduced as a motive to action. There we have the fuller statement, that these Christians had had the Word of the Truth, the Gospel of salvation, preached to them; that they had heard it, and had believed it; and then, that they had been “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,” in other words, the Holy Spirit who works out all the promises to us to fruition; “who,” adds the Apostle, “is an earnest of our inheritance,” an earnest being more than a pledge, inasmuch as it is both a pledge and a part of the inheritance itself. Then the Apostle tells us unto what we were thus sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, who is Himself an earnest of our inheritance, namely, “unto the redemption of God’s own possession” unto the praise of His glory.

Let us read these great words backwards, that we may grasp their full import. Christians are primarily the purchased possession of God: God has purchased them to Himself by the precious blood of His Son. But, the purchase is one thing, and “the delivery of the goods” another. Their redemption is, therefore, not completed by the simple purchase. There remains, accordingly, a “day of redemption” yet in the future, unto which the purchased possession is to be brought. Meanwhile, because we are purchased and are God’s possession, we are sealed to Him and to the fulfillment of the redemption, to take place on that day. And the seal is the Holy Spirit, here designated as the “Holy Spirit of promise” because it is through Him that this promise is to be fulfilled; and the “earnest of our inheritance” because He is both the pledge that the inheritance shall be ours, and a foretaste of that inheritance itself.

The whole is a most pointed assertion that those who have been bought by the blood of Christ, and brought to God by the preached Gospel, shall be kept by His power unto the salvation which is ready to be revealed at the last day.

The great fact on which Paul bases his appeal is, therefore, the fact of the security of believers, of the preservation by God of His children, of the “perseverance of the saints”—to use time-honored theological language. We are sealed, rendered secure, by the Holy Ghost, unto the day of redemption: we are sealed by the Holy Spirit, the fulfiller of the promises, and the earnest of our inheritance, unto the full redemption of us, who are God’s purchased possession. The fact the Apostle adverts to is, in a word, that our salvation is sure.

How is this a motive to holiness?

Men say that security acts rather as a motive to carelessness. Well, we observe at least that the Apostle does not think so, but uses it rather as a motive to holiness. Because we have, been sealed by the Spirit of God, he reasons, let us not grieve Him by sin. Men may think that a stronger appeal might be based on fear lest we fall from the Spirit’s keeping; as if Paul should rather have said, Because you can be kept only by the Spirit, beware lest you grieve Him away by sinning. But Paul’s actual appeal is not to fear but to gratitude. Because you have been sealed by the Spirit unto the day of redemption, see to it that you do not grieve, bring pain or sorrow to this Spirit, who has done so much for you.

It is not to be denied, of course, that the motive of fear is a powerful one, a legitimate one to appeal to, and one which in its due place is appealed to constantly in the Scriptures. It is, no doubt, a relatively lower motive than that here appealed to by Paul; but as Bishop Doane once truly said, most men are more amenable to appeals addressed to the lower than to those addressed to the higher motives. When men cease to be of a low mind, we can afford to deal with them on a higher plane. I have no sympathy, therefore, with the view, often expressed, that man must not be urged to save his soul by an appeal to his interests, by an appeal to the joys of heaven or to the pains of torment. You all know the old story of how St. Iddo, once, when he journeyed abroad, met an old crone with a pitcher of water in one hand and a torch ablaze in the other, who explained that the torch was to burn up heaven and the water to quench hell, that men might no longer seek to please God because of desire for one or fear of the other, but might be led only by disinterested love. History says that St. Iddo went home wondering. Well he might. For on such teachings as this he should have to forgo the imitation of his Lord, who painted to men the delights of the heavenly habitations and forewarned men to fear him who has power after he has destroyed the body also to cast into hell, where, so He says, their worm dies not and the fire is not quenched. The motives of fear of punishment and vision of reward, though relatively low motives, are yet legitimate motives, and are, in their own place, valuable.

But the Apostle teaches us in our present passage that the higher motives too are for use and in their own place are the motives to use. Do not let us, as Christian ministers, assume that our flocks, purchased by the blood of Christ, and sealed unto the day of redemption by the Spirit, are accessible only to the lowest motives. “Give a dog a bad name,” says the proverb, “and hang him.” And the proverb may be an allegory to us. Deal with people on a low plane and they may sink to that plane and become incapable of occupying any other. Cry to them, “Lift up your hearts” and believe me you will obtain your response. It is a familiar experience that, if you treat a man as a gentleman, he will tend to act like a gentleman; if you treat him like a thief, only the grace of God and strong moral fiber can hold him back from stealing. Treat Christian men like Christian men; expect them to live on Christian principles; and they will strive to walk worthily of their Christian profession.

So far from Paul’s appeal to the high motive of gratitude here, then, being surprising, it is, even on the low ground of natural psychology, true and right. The highest motives are relatively the most powerful. And when we leave the low ground of natural psychology and take our stand on the higher ground of Christian truth, how significant and instructive it is. If the Holy Spirit has done this for me; if He in all His holiness is dwelling in me, to seal me unto the day of redemption, shall I have no care not to grieve Him? Fear is paralyzing. Despair is destruction of effort. Hope is living and active in every limb, and when that hope becomes assurance, and that assurance is recognized as based on the act of a Person/lovingly dealing with us and winning us to holiness, can we conceive of a motive to holiness of equal power?

Brethren, we must not speak of such things historically only. We are not here simply to observe how Paul appealed to the Ephesians, as he sought to move them to holy endeavor; nor to discuss whether or not this is a moving manner of dealing with human souls. His appeal is to us. The fact asserted is true of us,—we are sealed by the Holy Spirit to the day of redemption. He is in us too as the Holy Spirit whom sin offends, and as the loving Spirit who is working in us towards good. Do we feel the pull of the appeal? Shall we listen to and feel and yield to and obey Paul’s great voice crying to us down through the ages: “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God in whom ye were sealed unto the day of redemption”?

Commune with your souls on these things to-day!

The Holy Spirit’s, and … YOUR … Testimony to the Blood of Jesus

Taken from, “The Blood of Jesus Christ”
Written by, William Reid, 1814-1896.

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The great work that the Holy Spirit is now occupied in performing…

…is that of directing sinners to Jesus, and inclining and enabling them to come to Him that they may be saved. Since this is the case, I am a fellow-worker with God the Holy Spirit only in so far as I tell anxious sinners to look to Jesus only, and have “redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins” as their first and great business—and “this one thing I do” (Eph. 1:7; Philippians 3:13).

The question is not whether we think it scriptural for an awakened sinner to desire the secret and power-giving presence of the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of his understanding and show him the all-sufficiency of Christ—that is what neither we nor any other true Christian would for a moment think of forbidding. Nor is it the question whether the work of the Holy Spirit is necessary in order to salvation. The very fact of writing as we have done on regeneration in a previous chapter, as well as writing to encourage our brethren to meet together—and also meeting ourselves, to pray for the Holy Spirit to put forth His reviving, sanctifying, convincing, and converting power—will satisfy all ingenuous minds that we hold the absolute necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit in order to the regeneration and conversion of perishing souls.

The only question, then, that falls to be considered is, what am I to say to an awakened and anxious sinner? Am I to say simply, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,” as said the apostle of the Gentiles to the trembling jailor of Philippi (Acts 16:31)? Or am I, as the first thing I do, to exhort him to pray for the Holy Spirit to convince him more deeply of his sin, enlighten his darkened understanding, renew his perverse will, and enable him to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ to the saving of his soul? Am I to direct him, as the grand thing he has to do, to believe in Jesus and accept His blood-shedding as the only foundation of his peace with God; or to seek the work of the Spirit as an addition to Christ’s work, in order that he may be justified?

The former leads to justification by faith alone, the true apostolic doctrine of the churches of the first age.

The latter leads to “justification by sanctification,” the pernicious doctrine of a later era, by embracing which a man can never reach any satisfactory assurance that his sins are pardoned, even after a lifetime’s religious experience and devout and sincere performance of religious duties—whereas, by teaching salvation by the blood of Christ alone, a man may, like the Philippian jailor, “rejoice, believing in God with all his house” (Acts 16:34), “in the same hour” in which Christ is presented as the alone object of personal faith and consequent reconciliation.

There is, we regret to think, a large class of professing Christians who seem to have the unfounded notion engrained in their minds, that Christ came as a Savior in the fullness of time, and on being rejected and received up into glory, the Holy Spirit came down to be the Savior of sinners in His stead; and that whether men are now to be saved or lost depends entirely on the work of the Holy Spirit in them, and not on the work of Christ done for them…

…whereas the Holy Spirit was given as the crowning evidence that Jesus is still the Savior, even now that He is in heaven. The great work of the Spirit is not to assume the place of Jesus as our Savior, but to bear witness to Christ Jesus as the only Savior; and by His quickening grace bring lost sinners to Him, that they may become “the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26). This He did on the blessed day of Pentecost, when thousands of divinely quickened souls received His testimony, believed “in the name of Jesus,” and obtained “remission of sins” (Acts 2:38).

The Holy Ghost is not the Savior…

…and He never professed to be so, but His great work, in so far as the unconverted are concerned, is to direct sinners to the Savior, and to get them persuaded to embrace Him and rely upon Him. When speaking of the Holy Spirit, Jesus said distinctly to His disciples, “He shall not speak of himself…he shall glorify me” (John 16:13-14). If to glorify Christ is the grand aim and peculiar work of the Holy Spirit, should it not also be the grand aim and constant work of those who believe in Him, and more especially of the ministers of His gospel?

The whole drift of the Holy Spirit’s inspired oracles, as we have them in the Bible, is to glorify Christ. The gospel ministry has been granted by Him (Eph. 4:11-12) to keep the purport of those Scriptures incessantly before the minds of men, and in so doing to beseech sinners to be reconciled to God. Now, Holy Scripture throughout clearly teaches that, simply on account of the one finished, all-sufficient, and eternally efficacious work of Christ, sinners who believe in Him are “justified from all things”; that we are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood” (Romans 3:24-25). We are justified as “sinners” as “ungodly” (Romans 5:6, 8), and not as having an incipient personal righteousness wrought in us by the Holy Ghost.

Few men, with the Word of God in their hands, would subscribe to such a doctrine, and yet it is the latent creed of the great majority of professing Christians. It is, in fact, the universal creed of the natural heart. Fallen human nature, when under terror, says, Get into a better state by all means; feel better, pray better, do better; become holier and reform your life and conduct—and God will have mercy upon you! But grace says, “Behold, God is my salvation!” (Isaiah 12:2). To give God some equivalent for His mercy, either in the shape of an inward work of sanctification, or of an outward work of reformation, the natural man can comprehend and approve of—but to be justified by faith alone on the ground of the finished work of Christ, irrespective of both, is quite beyond his comprehension. But “the foolishness of God is wiser than men” (1Cor. 1:25). Instead of preaching holiness as a ground of peace with God, “we preach Christ crucified” (1Cor. 1:23), “for other foundation can no man lay”—either for justification or sanctification—“than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1Cor. 3:11). Whatever others may do, I am “determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1Cor. 2:2).

“O my Redeemer, Who for me wast slain,
Who bringest me forgiveness and release,

Whose death has ransomed me to God again,
And now my heart can rest in perfect peace!
“Still more and more do Thou my soul redeem,
From every bondage set me wholly free;
Though evil oft the mightiest power may seem,
Still make me more than conqueror, Lord, in Thee!

A Case Study of Lydia: And the Spirit’s Work in the Conversion of Sinners

Taken from, “The Spirit’s Work in the Conversion of Sinners”
Written by, James Buchanan

Material adapted from Monergism

Paul Teaches Lydia Acts 16:14

THERE is one important circumstance which was common to all those cases of conversion that are recorded in Scripture…

…the same of which well deserves our most serious consideration; by this I mean the direct operation of the Holy Spirit on the mind of every true convert to the Christian faith, in the way of applying the truth, which is ordinarily the means of conversion. The agency of the Spirit is specially referred to by our Lord himself, in one of the last and most affecting of those addresses, which he delivered to his disciples before his death. And by comparing his words with other passages of Scripture, we learn that there were two very different ways in which the Spirit should act, or that there are two distinct modes of operation by which he carries into effect his great design. The one is external, and sensible; the other is internal, and spiritual. We read of ‘the manifestation of the Spirit which is given to every man to profit withal;’ and we read of the ‘indwelling of the Spirit in the hearts of true believers.’ In other words, the dispensation of the Gospel is called the ‘ministration of the Spirit,’ for two distinct reasons; first, on account of miraculous gifts which were vouchsafed to the apostles and first converts; and, secondly, on account of the enlightening, converting, and sanctifying grace which rendered the Gospel effectual for their salvation. There is a wide difference betwixt the two. They differ in their nature, their use, and their effects; the one being an appropriate evidence, a divine attestation of the truth; the other, a direct operation on the soul, by which it is renewed and quickened, and turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God. And not only are they widely different; we have reason to believe that they might be separated from each other. Such being the difference betwixt the miraculous gifts and the inward graces of the Spirit, it is a delightful truth that the latter and the more valuable of the two is the permanent inheritance of the Christian Church. His miraculous gifts were to cease when they had fulfilled their end by establishing the truth; but his office did not cease. Nor was his work completed when, by his descent on the day of Pentecost and his subsequent effusion at Cæsarea on the Gentiles, the promise of the Father was fulfilled, and the truth of the Gospel established. Considered as an evidence, the gift of the Spirit was decisive; but evidence is not enough, nor an inspired Bible, nor a faithful ministry. In every human heart there is a spirit of unbelief and enmity, and many a lofty imagination, which exalteth itself against the knowledge of God; which is not overcome by any amount of evidence, or by the mere force of truth, and can only be subdued by the inward grace of the Spirit; and hence we learn that it belongs to his office, and forms a part of his blessed work, at all times, to ‘shine into our hearts,’ ‘to renew us in the spirit of our mind,’ ‘to quicken us into spiritual life,’ ‘to open our eyes,’ and ‘to turn us from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.’

The direct personal operation of the Spirit on the soul of every convert is beautifully illustrated by the case of Lydia. It is said of her, that while she listened to the preaching of the Word, ‘the Lord opened her heart, so that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.’

In regard to her state and character before her conversion and baptism, the narrative, although extremely short, contains several intimations, which throw a very interesting light on her case, and that of a large class in our own time who resemble her in the chief points of their character. It is intimated that, like the Roman centurion and the Ethiopian treasurer, she was a proselyte to the Jewish faith, and a believer in the one only, the living and the true God. By birth a Gentile, and a native of Thyatira, she had come to Philippi as a seller of purple; and although a stranger, she maintained in the city of her adoption, and amidst the idolatries, which prevailed in it, a devout attachment to her religion, and continued in the worship of God. It is also intimated, I think, with sufficient clearness, that she was really devout, and imbued with a spirit of prayer; for not only did she observe the Sabbath, in conformity with the law of Moses, but, when probably no other opportunity was afforded of attending the ordinances of public worship, in a city where both the magistrates and the multitude seem to have been easily excited against any innovation in their public customs, she ‘went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made.’ It is deeply interesting to mark, that, at the time of her conversion, this devout woman was attending a prayer meeting, in the open air, by the water side, along with a few other women who were in the habit, it would seem, of assembling together for this purpose, for it is said that ‘they resorted thither;’ and it is not less interesting to notice, that Paul and his companions did not reckon it beneath them to join that humble meeting, but, on the contrary, leaving the noise and tumult of the city, they sought out the little band of praying women, and sat down beside them, and spake to them the word of life. And while they were thus engaged in prayer and conference, ‘the Lord opened the heart of Lydia,’ a striking proof of the immediate efficacy of prayer. Without prayer we have no reason to look for a blessing. God may, indeed, and sometimes does surprise a prayerless sinner: he is sometimes found of them that sought him not, as in the case of the gaoler in this same city; and then the first effect of his change will be the same that the Lord marked in the case of Paul, when he said, ‘Behold, he prayeth!’ But although this may happen in manifestation of God’s sovereignty and the riches of his undeserved mercy, there is no promise in the Bible except to prayer, and that promise is alike unlimited and sure: ‘Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.’ ‘If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him.’

Even though her heart was still shut or closed against the reception of the truth as it is in Jesus, it is said, ‘the Lord opened her heart;’ an expression which clearly implies that, devout as she was, her heart was in such a state, that, but for the gracious operation of the Spirit, it would have excluded the Gospel message. Such is the natural state of every heart; and by the heart, I mean, as is generally meant in Scripture, the whole moral nature of man, including alike his understanding, his conscience, his will, and his affections. In this comprehensive sense, the heart is closed against the reception of the truth, and every faculty presents an obstacle such as divine grace alone can remove. In reference to unregenerate men, it is expressly said that their understandings are shut against the light of the Gospel, insomuch that of the Jews, with the Old Testament in their hands, it is said, ‘But their minds were blinded,’ ‘the veil was upon their hearts,’ and ‘if our Gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them;’ and ‘the natural man,’ universally, ‘receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.’ And so the conscience is ‘seared as with a hot iron,’ the ‘very mind and conscience is defiled,’ and ‘the heart is hardened; and thus there are many bars or obstacles which obstruct the entrance of the truth. There is the bar of ignorance: many ‘hear the word,’ but understand it not; and the wicked one takes away that which was sown; there is the bar of unbelief, which rejects the testimony of God; there is the bar of enmity, for ‘the carnal mind is enmity against God; it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be;’ there is the bar of presumption or pride: ‘The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God; God is not in all his thoughts;’ there is the bar of discouragement and despair: ‘Thou saidst there is no hope; for I have loved strangers, and after them will I go;’ there is the bar of unwillingness: ‘Ye will not come to me that ye might have life;’ there is the bar of worldly-mindedness: ‘The cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful;’ there is the bar of sloth: ‘A little more sleep, a little more slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep;’ there is the bar of vicious passion and depraved habits, any one bosom sin being enough to exclude the saving power of the truth: ‘For this is the condemnation, that light hath come into the world, and that men have loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds are evil.’ Under the influence of these and similar hindrances, the heart is closed against the admission of the truth, closed as really as are the eyes of the blind or the ears of the deaf; for, says our Lord himself, ‘In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: for this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them;’ and in the same light does he represent the state of our own hearts, when he now says to each of us, ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man will hear my voice, and will open the door, I will come in to him.’

But it maybe asked: If Lydia was a sincere and devout worshipper of the true God, is it reasonable to suppose that her heart was thus shut against God’s truth? I answer that, even in persons of true piety, there may be much remaining ignorance and many groundless prejudices, which, but for the enlightening grace of the Spirit, might prevent them from embracing the Gospel. This was remarkably exemplified in those ‘devout and honourable women, and the chief men of the city, whom the Jews stirred up, and who raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts, insomuch that the apostles shook off the dust of their feet against them;’ and still more in the case of Paul himself, who was a Pharisee, and the son of a Pharisee, living according to the straitest sect of the law, yet his heart was barred, by invincible prejudices, against the truth, until it was removed on his way to Damascus. And so of Lydia. She, too, was devout; but her heart was closed, until it was opened by the Lord. And many professors, in modern times, resemble her in this, being conscientious and devout according to their light, but still ignorant or unbelieving, or imbued with strong prejudice, 1 in regard to the Gospel of Christ; just as Nathanael himself, of whom our Lord said, ‘Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile,’ was yet so far influenced by mere prejudice as to say, in answer to the first intimation he received of the Messiah, ‘Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?’ And if, in such cases, divine agency be needful to open the heart for the reception of the truth, how much more in the vast majority, who are utterly irreligious and unconcerned!

If we consider the means by which her conversion was effected, we shall find that here there was no miraculous accompaniment of any kind, but an example only of what takes place in the experience of every genuine convert. It is simply said, ‘A certain woman heard us, whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.’

But this pregnant statement brings before us, in a state of beautiful combination, two things, which are equally essential to a sinner’s conversion:

The first is, the agency of the Spirit;

The second is, the instrumentality of the Word. There was a direct personal operation of the Spirit on the heart of Lydia; he removed those obstacles, which might otherwise have obstructed the admission of the truth. It was not Paul who affected this. Paul preached; but though inspired with supernatural wisdom, and endowed with miraculous powers, and especially with the gift of tongues, he says himself, ‘Paul may plant, and Apollos water; but God giveth the increase. Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, according as the Lord gave to every man!’ God alone can open the heart. That change consisted in opening the understanding to discern the light of God’s truth, the conscience to feel its convincing power, and the heart, to receive its sanctifying influence; and this belongs to the office of the Holy Ghost, whose work is heart-work, and consists of two parts, the opening of the Scriptures, and the opening of the mind, as we learn from the case of the disciples after his resurrection, of whom it is said in one place that they exclaimed, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked with us by the way, and opened unto us the Scriptures?’ and in another, ‘Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures.’

But while the Lord only can open the heart, he employs the truth as the instrument of conversion to the careless, and of edification to the devout inquirer. The Spirit’s agency does not supersede the use of the Word: on the contrary, the truth read or heard is still the wisdom of God, and the power of God, unto salvation. ‘The Lord opened the heart of Lydia,’ but he did so ‘that she might attend unto the things which were spoken of Paul.’ It is by the truth contained in the Word that this great change is wrought, that being the instrument which the Spirit of God renders effectual; and hence, while we are said to be ‘born of the Spirit,’ we are also said to be ‘born not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, even by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever;’ and again, while the Spirit is revealed as the Sanctifier, our Lord himself prayed, in these memorable words, ‘Sanctify them by thy truth; thy Word is truth.’ And both are combined, both the agency of the Spirit and the instrumentality of the Word, in that comprehensive statement of the apostle, ‘God hath from the beginning chosen you unto salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.’ Various similitudes are employed to represent the same thing; the Word is compared to afire or furnace, in which His people are melted and tried, but the Lord sits as a refiner over it; and as a hammer, a powerful instrument, but inert in itself, and effectual only when applied by a powerful arm; and as a sword, ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God,’ a sharp two-edged sword, but utterly powerless unless it be applied by the Spirit. So David’s prayer combines a reference to both: ‘Open thou mine eyes, that I may see wonderful things out of thy law.’

The nature of Lydia’s change, and the practical results which flowed from it, are briefly indicated; but enough is said to show, that she had that ‘faith which worketh by love,’ and in which properly consists ‘the new creation;’ for we read that she was baptized, thereby professing her faith in Christ, and her submission to his authority, and that, too, in a city where the professors of the Gospel were exposed to reproach and persecution; that, as soon as she was baptised, she besought the apostles, saying, ‘If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there,’ her faith working by love to Christ and to his ministering servants, and producing zeal for his cause and service, such as prompted her to make sacrifices for his name’s sake; and if these principles of faith and love were really planted’ in her heart, they would unquestionably produce in her after-life all the ‘peaceable fruits of righteousness.’

The case of Lydia suggests various practical lessons. It affords an example of the care with which God provided for the instruction of sincere inquirers in the Jewish Church. It shows, in a very striking light, the efficacy of prayer, as a means of spiritual advancement. It illustrates the necessity of a great spiritual change, even in the case of such as are regular in their attendance on ordinances, and conscientious according to their light. It affords a beautiful exemplification of the relative functions of the Word and Spirit in the work of conversion, and enforces the duty of combining diligence, in the use of means, with a spirit of dependence on the divine blessing. And it shows how different are the feelings of one ‘whose heart the Lord has opened’ towards his faithful ministers, and those of the ungodly multitude: – she constrained the apostles to reside in her house; they rose against them, and committed them to prison, making their feet fast in the stocks.
 

Christian Fools!!! The Need for Evangelism in a Calvinistic Context, Part Three.

Written by A. W. Pink.
Edited for thought, sense and space.

evangelismIt won’t cause one hair in my head to go grey if I am inconsistent with any Calvinistic creed…

…the only thing that concerns me is to be consistent with the Holy Spirit, and to teach as the Holy Spirit shall enable, the whole counsel of God; to leave out nothing, to withhold nothing, and to give a proportionate presentation of God’s truth.

I believe that most of the theological errors of the past have grown out of, not so much a denial of God’s truth, as a disproportionate emphasis of it. Let me give you a simple illustration. The most comely countenance with the most beautiful features would soon become ugly if one feature were to grow while the others remained undeveloped. You can take the most beautiful baby there is in the world tonight and if that baby’s nose were to grow while its eyes and its cheeks and its mouth and its ears remained undeveloped, it would soon become unsightly. The same is true with every other member of its face.

For an instance, If a church does not evangelize it will fossilize.

That is God’s method of perpetuating His work and of maintaining His churches. God uses means, and the means that the Holy Spirit uses in His work is the preaching of the gospel to the unconverted, to every creature. True, the preaching will avail nothing without the Spirit’s blessing and application. True, no sinner will or can believe until God has quickened him. Yet he ought to, and is commanded to.

I am very much afraid that there are some who entertain the notion that all they have to do is just to sit still and wait until God comes and saves you. My friends, I do not know of a single promise of God that He will do so. I do not know of a single line in this Book that encourages you to continue in your sinful inactivity. I am going to speak very plainly now. The devil will tell you there is no cause for you to be concerned: there is not a bit of need for you to worry: if your name is in the Lamb’s Book of Life you will be saved, whether you believe or no. That is the devil’s lie! It is not God’s truth. The devil will tell you that if you have been elected to salvation there is not a bit of need for you to be alarmed, disturbed or exercised; no need at all for you to seek and search after the Lord; that when God’s good time comes He is going to do it all for you: not a bit of good for you to read the Bible and cry out to Him: and if He has not elected you, well, there is no need for sure, for it’s useless.

Yes, the devil will speak in those tones and terms and he will come quoting Scripture to you. But there is no salvation for the sinner apart from his believing in Christ. I close with this quotation—2 Thessalonians 2:13, “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through”—through what? “sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” That is how God saves. That is how God carries out His purpose—by the sanctification of the Spirit and by your belief of the truth.

And my friends, I have not limited God. God could, if He so chose, make the fields to grow crops without the farmer plowing them and sowing the seed, but that is not His way; that is not the method He selects. God could keep us in health and strength without our taking any food at all or wasting time in sleeping if He so chose, but that is not His way. And God could save every sinner on earth tonight without them believing if He wanted to, but it is not His way! I am not limiting God, I am describing to you the plan and method that God Himself has set forth in His Word, and if you would be saved, sinner, you have got to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for yourself. I say it reverently: the Holy Spirit won’t believe for you. The Holy Spirit may put it into your heart and give you the desire to believe. If you have the desire it is because He has put it there, but He won’t believe for you: believing is a human act. It is the sinner himself, in all his wretchedness and need, coming to Christ, as a drowning man clutches a straw, and as the old hymn says—

“Just as I am without one plea, But that thy blood was shed for me.”

O sinner, Christ is saying to you, “O fools and slow of heart to believe all.” You do believe much as you sit there. There are some of you who believe that Jesus is the Son of God. There are some of you who believe that He is the only Saviour who can save any sinner. You believe that, then why not believe all? Why not believe in Him for yourself? Why not trust His precious blood for yourself; and why not now? God is ready to save you NOW if you believe on Him. The blood has been shed, the sacrifice has been offered, the atonement has been made, the feast has been spread. The call goes out to you, “Come, for all things are NOW ready” (Luke 14:17). And I say again, the devil will tell you as you are sitting there, “There is no need for me to come right now; I will just wait till God gets ready to come and save me.” How do you know that while you are waiting death may not come and smite you down? “Boast not thyself of tomorrow for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth” (Pro 27:1). The Holy Spirit saith, “Today if ye will hear His voice harden not your hearts” (Hebrews 4:7). Yes, man can “harden” his heart: God says so; and God calls to you: “Harden not your heart.” That is something you do yourself—not the devil—you do it. God is speaking to you through His Word tonight. O may His grace forbid that He shall say our text to any of you after you have left this room. O God forbid that you should be among those “fools” who believe not all. You do believe that Christ is God’s appointed Saviour for sinners, why not as your Saviour? O may the Spirit draw you by the cords of love to that One who has said, “him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37).

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Taken from, “Christian Fools” Written by A. W. Pink.

Meet the Author and part of your Christian heritage: Arthur Walkington Pink (1 April 1886 – 15 July 1952) was an English Christian evangelist and biblical scholar who was known for his staunchly Calvinist and Puritan-like teachings in an era dominated by opposing theological traditions. For example, he called Dispensationalism a “modern and pernicious error”. Subscribers of his monthly magazine Studies in the Scriptures included Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Dr. Douglas Johnson, first general secretary of Inter-Varsity.After Pink’s death, his works were republished by a number of publishing houses, among them, Banner of Truth Trust, Baker Book House, Christian Focus Publications, Moody Press, Truth for Today, and reached a much wider audience as a result. Biographer Iain Murray observes of Pink, “the widespread circulation of his writings after his death made him one of the most influential evangelical authors in the second half of the twentieth century.” His writing sparked a revival of expository preaching and focused readers’ hearts on biblical living. Pink is left out of many biographical dictionaries and overlooked in many religious histories.

Having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience…

Written by: Edward Bickersteth
Published in: 1839
Edited for thought and sense

power-of-the-cross-larry-landolfiIt is by viewing God as displayed in the whole work of the Lord Jesus Christ, that I, a sinner can see all my sins forgiven through this stupendous sacrifice.

Thus, and thus only, the enmity of my heart against him is put away, and I can have full confidence in approaching the Holy God. Let me credit God’s word really; let me not reckon God false, but true; let me receive the testimony concerning his Son, (1 John 5:9-12.) and joy and peace, love and holiness enter my heart, and lean go to God with the same confidence with which the sinless angels go to him. How very strong are the beautiful expressions of God’s own word!  

“Having, therefore, brethren, BOLDNESS to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say Ins flesh; and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart, in FULL ASSURANCE OF FAITH, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.” — Hebrews 10:9

Or, as in another place,

“Let us come BOLDLY to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” –Hebrews 4:16

Or again,

“Through him we have access by one Spirit unto the Father.” Ephesians 2:18

Or again;

“In Jesus we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.” Ephesians 3:12

christian_012000676_tnbDo, you notice the anxiety of the Holy Spirit to shew the freedom of the sinner’s access with holy boldness and confidence?

Cast away all doubts and suspensions of God’s love and of his willingness to receive you, as it is the very suggestion of Satan the great enemy of your souls. Whoever you are, there is no reason why you should not, by Jesus, at once, go to God and delight in his presence and love to you, and obtained from him every promised blessing.

Do you say this is a blessed state for those who believe it, but I am unable to believe?

Oh do not, with a mocked humility and feigned modesty, thus allow yourself the carnal gratifications of your alienated mind. Oh it will not do! You are deceiving yourselves. The real truth is, you are accusing God of falsehood. You are alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in you, because of the hardness of your heart. Let the light of his truth beam upon you ; receive God’s word as you receive man’s word, and you must see that the “I cannot believe,” is really, “I will not believe.”

But to make this matter still plainer, the very provision which God makes in the gospel is all for your sinfulness, unworthiness, and helplessness. God has provided help for your unbelief. Jesus has received gifts for the rebellious, yes, he has all things pertaining to life and godliness. He bestows the Holy Spirit, he bestows faith,he bestows the Spirit of grace and supplication. 

He casts out none that come to him.

He enables those that look to him to pray in the Holy Ghost. It is wholly your own fault, your own unbelief, if you do not now, without delay, enjoy the privilege of prayer. God invites you to come, he promises you his Spirit, he tells you he loves you, though sinful in ten thousand repeated forms, and especially by the death of his Son ; (Rom. 5:6-11.) he assures to you every blessing, simply on asking!

O reader, perish not with the aggravated guilt of neglecting so great salvation! There is in this day of grace the fullest ground for your entire confidence in approaching the most holy Jehovah, and the fullest supply of strength and ability in Jesus to enable you to do this.