The Holy Spirit and the World
How impressive are the words of Christ when He spoke of the Holy Spirit’s coming and work! “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you. 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 to My Father, and ye see Me no more; of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged” (John 16:7-11).
Note that the Holy Spirit reaches the ungodly world through the Lord’s people: “I will send Him unto you,” Jesus said to His disciples. Earlier in that upper-room discourse, Christ declared that the Father would give “the Spirit of Truth; whom the world Cannot Receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him” (John 14:16-17). The invisible presence of the Comforter is vividly real to faith, but entirely incomprehensible to unbelief.
Christ’s statement also implies that the Holy Spirit’s character as Spirit of Truth makes Him undesirable to men in their sin. However, in this same aspect of His holy character, He takes up His abode in the Christian heart, and makes the Christian a medium of expression to those who are incapable of direct communication with Him. It is a sobering thought that the sovereign Spirit of God should choose us as the mouthpiece of His message to men. This calls for a sanctified yielding to His impulse, and an increasing sympathy with His intentions.
Now, what of the expedience of Christ’s absence from this world? Those who heard His words had accompanied Him for over three years; had seen His signs and wonders; had witnessed His moral perfections; and had revelled in His loving presence and gracious ministry. How could it be possible that His departure should be profitable? How could it be advantageous for these trembling disciples to lose Christ’s physical presence?
The answer is found in the advent of the promised Paraclete, and in the prophesied sphere of His operation. By the Spirit, Christ’s somewhat confined labours would be universally extended. The Lord Jesus Christ limited His ministrations almost completely to areas populated by Jews and Samaritans. But here is One Whose presence would be known in believing hearts — north, south, east, and west; Whose sphere of operation would make Christ available to all the sons of men.
It is the Spirit’s supreme function to vindicate and glorify the absent Christ. The Spirit’s presence is a constant reminder of the treatment which the world has accorded to its rightful Lord and King. Day by day, He is pressing home upon men and women Everywhere, the claims of the crucified One Who is now in heaven for a time, but Who awaits the day when the restraint and grace of the Spirit will be removed with the raptured Church. Christ shall then return to assume the government of all the nations (2 Thess. 2:5-8).
This work of vindicating the rejected and absent Lord is carried out by the Spirit in a threefold way: first, by bringing home to men their greatest sin; second, by demonstrating the truth and character of the absent One; and third, by indicating the judgment of the world ruler and his kingdom.
Conviction Of Sin
The spearhead of all human sin and rebellion against God is man’s refusal of the Son of God. The Spirit reproves the world of sin because they believe not on Jesus. Man can offer God no greater insult than to reject the Son of His love. Hence, the Spirit of God — by the Word of God and through the people of God — lays upon the unbelieving conscience this super-sin: the rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Anyone who refuses to accept Christ as Lord and Saviour, assents to, and acts in complicity with, that act of the world whereby Christ was assigned to a cross of shame. To remain in unbelief after the facts concerning Him are known is to be guilty with the world that slew its Lord. The Spirit takes up the cause of Christ with the individual worldling and leads him to a sense of his guilt, and thence to a full conviction of the gravity of remaining in unbelief and of continuing to reject the Lord Jesus Christ.
Vindication Of Christ
In another direction, the Spirit espouses the cause of the absent Lord. He convinces the world of righteousness because Jesus was going to His Father. This is essentially a work of vindication. The Spirit acts as Christ’s Advocate as well as ours. It is His work to make clear the truth and character of Him Whom cruel men maligned, slandered, and crucified in a vile and baseless assault upon his righteous character.
Inspired by Satan, man has sought to stain and reproach the Name of Christ, but God has seen to it that His Son is fully vindicated in the hearts of all who desire the truth concerning Jesus. The very presence of the Spirit on earth is then a monument to Christ’s personal rectitude. The Spirit is present here because Christ is received in heaven.
This is also indicated by the Pentecostal message of the Spirit-filled Apostle, Peter: “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 Ghost, He hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear … Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ’’ (Acts 2:32-37). Christ’s rejection by man on earth and reception by God in heaven —as demonstrated in dynamic fashion by the coming of the Holy Spirit— are the salient features of this witness which resulted in pricked hearts and penitent suppliants desiring to know the way of salvation.
Condemnation Of Satan
Furthermore, the Holy Spirit brings to logical demonstration the condemnation and overthrow of the prince of this world. He convinces the world of judgment “because the prince of this world is judged.” The very act in which the world disowned its Saviour, became the occasion of its defeat. Our Lord Jesus met Satan at the cross and vanquished him and his whole empire.
Even before His death, the Saviour anticipated that glorious victory. “Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me (John 12:31-32). The prince and his dominion would fall together before the mighty Son of God. Now, praise God, this event is past history, and He Who is stronger than the strong man armed, has invaded Satanic territory and made a show of him openly!
This reveals two highly important propositions: there is emancipation from Satan’s kingdom and tyranny for all who link with the Conqueror; and all others will share Satan’s doom and punishment as members of his empire. What a call is this to every Christ-rejector, to abandon the ranks of his evil prince, and to own allegiance to the mighty Victor of Calvary!
This threefold approach of the Spirit to the needs of sinful men in the world, indicates the preparation which is essential for salvation; a preparation for which human reasonings and pleadings can never substitute. The Spirit of God must quicken the conscience by making real the sin of unbelief in Christ. This quickening cannot be accelerated by human agency either, and it becomes every servant of Christ to yield to the Holy Spirit Who, in His own time and manner, will bring the willing sinner to an intelligent consciousness of sin, and to an equally intelligent choice for or against the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the secret of His presence, how my soul delights to hide!
Oh, how precious are the lessons which I learn at Jesus’ side.
Earthly cares can never vex me, neither trials lay me low;
For when Satan comes to tempt me, to the secret place I go.
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The capacity for knowing God becomes enlarged as we are brought by Him into circumstances which oblige us to exercise faith; so, when difficulties beset our path, let us thank God that he is taking trouble with us, and let us lean hard upon Him.