Read CHAPTER XVIII of Love to the Uttermost Expositions of John XIII.-XXI. , free online book, by F. B. Meyer, on ReadCentral.com.

The Work of the Holy Spirit on the World

“He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” JOHN xv.

Three facts forced themselves home on the apostles during the Lord’s parting words. First, that they were to be bereaved of their Master’s presence (ver. 5). Second, that they were to be left alone, amid the world’s hatred “Whosoever killeth you” (ver. 2). Third, that their mission would be witness-bearing to the unseen Lord (x.

And as they fully realized all that these facts involved, they became too absorbed in their own sorrowful conclusions to inquire what bourn the Master sought as He set sail from these earthly shores. “O Master,” they said in effect, “why canst Thou not stay? Our orphaned hearts will never be able to endure the blank which Thy absence will cause. Easier could a flock of sheep withstand the onset of a pack of wolves than we the hatred of the world! And as for our witness-bearing, it will be too feeble to avail aught.”

And the Master, in effect, answered thus: “I will not leave you without aid. I shall still be with you, though unseen. My presence shall be revealed to your spirits, and made livingly real through the blessed Comforter. He will be with you, and in you. He will authenticate and corroborate your witness. He shall testify of Me; and when He is come, He will convince the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. You see then that I shall be able to help you better by sending the Holy Spirit than by staying with you Myself. It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away the Comforter will not come to you, but if I depart I will send Him unto you.”

We may not be able to fathom all the reasons for Christ’s withdrawal before the Spirit’s advent was possible. But some of them are obvious enough. The full union of the Son of God with our race must be secured through death and resurrection, and His full union with the Father must be indicated in His glorification with the glory He had or ever the worlds were made, before He could be the perfect channel of communicating the Divine fullness to our human nature. The Head must be anointed before the Body. There must be no physical distraction arising from the outward life of Jesus to compete with the spiritual impression of His unseen presence. The text must be completed before the sermon can be preached. Christ must die, or there can be no witness to His atonement; must rise, or there can be no testimony to His resurrection; must ascend, or there can be no declaration as to His finished work and eternal intercession. Since the Spirit reveals Christ, all that was appointed unto Christ to do must be completed ere the Spirit can commence His ministry.

The work of the Spirit on the world is through the Church, and is described by our Lord as threefold. By His revelation of Christ He creates three convictions. Each of these is necessary to the regeneration of man. There must be the sense of sin, or he will not seek the Saviour. There must be a belief that righteousness is possible, or the convicted sinner will die of despair. There must be the assurance that sin is doomed, and shall be finally vanquished, or the baffled warrior will give up the long conflict as hopeless.

I. THE CONVICTION OF SIN. We are constantly meeting people who are perfectly indifferent to Christianity, because they say they do not feel their need of it. Why should they trouble about it, when they suppose themselves able to do perfectly well without it?

In dealing with these, it is a great mistake to entice them toward the gospel by describing the moral grandeur of Christ’s character and teaching. We should at once seek to arouse them to a sense of their great sinfulness. When a man realizes that his life is being eaten out by some insidious disease, he will need no further urging to go to a physician. This is the weakness of modern preaching that we expatiate on the value of the remedy to men who have never realized their dire necessity.

But what is the truth most appropriate for producing the conviction of sin in the human breast? “Preach the Ten Commandments in all their stern and uncompromising ‘shalts’ and ‘shalt-nots,’” cries one. “Read out the descriptions given in Scripture of the evil things that lurk in the heart of man as filthy things in darksome caves,” says another. “Show men the results of sin, take them to the edge of the bottomless pit,” insists a third. But not one of these is the chosen weapon of the Holy Spirit. He convicts men of the sin of refusing to believe in Jesus Christ.

There stands the Cross, the evidence and symbol of God’s love; and there stands the risen Christ, offering Himself to men. There is nothing which more certainly proves the innate evil of the human heart than its refusal of that mystery of grace. Disbelief is the creature, not of the intellect, but of the will. It is not the result of inability to understand, but of stubborn obstinacy and stiffneckedness. Here is the supreme manifestation of moral beauty, but man has no eyes for it. Here is the highest revelation of God’s desire for man to be reconciled with Him, and be at one with Him, His happy child; but man either despises or spurns His overtures. Here is the offer of pardon for all the past, of heirship of all the promises, of blessedness in all the future, but man owns that he is indifferent to the existence and claims of God, and is quite willing to accept the sleeping retribution of bygone years, and to risk a future irradiated by no star of hope. Here is God in Christ beseeching him to be reconciled, declaring how much the reconciliation has cost, but the frail child of yesterday absolutely refuses to be at peace. No trace of tears in his voice, no shame on his face, no response to God’s love in his heart.

This is sin at its worst. Not in a Nero drenched with the blood of relatives and saints; nor in an Alva expert to invent new methods of torture; nor in the brutalized expression of the felon; nor in the degradation of the heathen: but in those beside you, who have heard of the love of Jesus from their earliest childhood, and who know that He died for them, and waits to bless them, but who deliberately and persistently refuse Him, you will find the most terrible revelations of what man is capable of. “This is the condemnation, that Light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”

Conviction in itself is not enough. Many have been convicted who have never gone on to conversion. They have dropped to the ground as untimely fruit, blighted before its maturity.

Conviction of sin does not come to all in the same manner or to the same extent. Indeed, those who have come to Christ in early life are in a degree exempt from drinking this bitter cup, though they have much tenderness of conscience afterward.

Do not wait for more conviction, but come to Jesus as you are, and tell Him that the saddest symptom in your case is your inability to feel as you know you should. Do not tarry to be convinced of sin. Do not stay away till you feel more deeply. Do not suppose that strongly roused emotions purchase His favor. His command is absolute Believe. But whenever that true repentance is wrought which needs not to be repented of, or those tears of penitence fall from the eyes of the suppliant, the means will always be the person and work and love of Jesus Christ. This is the burning-glass through which the Spirit focuses the rays of God’s love on ice-bound hearts.

II. THE CONVICTION OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. The aggravation of sin of which the Spirit convicts the sinner seems to present a gloom too dark for any ray to penetrate. He cannot forget. The dead past will not bury its dead. The wind of eternity blows away the leaves with which he tries to hide the corpses of murdered opportunities, broken hearts, and dissipated years. He cannot forget. He may close his eyes, but still the memories of the past will haunt him, the deeds he would undo, the words he would recall, the dark ingratitude toward the love of Jesus. Conscience is a flaming terror till a man finds Christ as his Saviour. Her brow is girt with fire, her voice peals with doom.

“Can I ever be cleansed?” cries the convicted soul. “Can these awful gnawings be silenced, and these terrors laid? Can I rise from this ruin and become a new, righteous, God-like man?” These questions are answered by the Spirit who induced them. “There is righteousness,” He says, “because Christ is gone to the Father, and ye see Him no more.”

He is gone to the Father; and the seal of Divine authenticity has therefore been placed on all He said and did in the Father’s name.

He is gone to the Father; and it is clear, therefore, that He has been accepted as the Saviour and Redeemer of men.

He is gone to the Father in the likeness and nature of men; evidently, then, man is an object of God’s love, is reconciled to God, and is admitted to the rights and privileges of a son and heir.

The work of Jesus on man’s behalf finished at the Cross, accepted by the Father of which the resurrection is witness presented by our Great High Priest within the veil, is the momentous truth which the Holy Spirit brings home to the convinced sinner. And inasmuch as we are unable to see within the veil and discern the Divine marks of approval and acceptance, the Holy Spirit descends, and in His advent proves that Jesus has gone where He said, and done what He promised.

How do we know that the work of Jesus Christ has been accepted in the courts of eternity? On this wise. Before He died the Master said that He went to the Father, and that when He was glorified He would ask and receive the Spirit in His fullness. After days had elapsed and the second week from His ascension was already passing, the Spirit in pentecostal fullness fell upon the waiting Church, giving it an altogether new power to combat with the world. What the wagons were to Jacob, proving that Joseph lived and thought of him still, and was indeed supreme in Egypt, that the day of Pentecost was in declaring that Christ’s personal righteousness had been vindicated, and that the righteousness He had wrought out for man had received the hallmark of the Divine assay. Therefore the apostle says, “The Holy Ghost also is a witness to us that He hath perfected forever by one offering them that are sanctified.” And again, “Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour; and the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey Him, is witness of these things.”

III. THE CONVICTION OF JUDGMENT. When we have been freed from sin, and made righteous in Christ, we are left face to face with a tremendous struggle against sin. The sin of the past is indeed forgiven, the voice of conscience has been hushed, the sinner rejoices to know that he is accepted on the ground of righteousness; but the old temptations still crop up. Passion prompts us to live for present gratification; the flesh deadens the burning aspirations of the spirit. We ask in sad earnestness, How shall we be able to survive the terrible struggle and to come off victorious? It appears a vain hope that we should ever rise to perfect and victorious purity.

At such a time the Comforter convinces us of judgment. Not, as the words are so often misquoted, of judgment to come, but in the sense in which our Lord spoke of judgment to the inquiring Greeks: “Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the Prince of this world be cast out.” Our Lord’s references to the existence and power of Satan are always distinct and unhesitating. It is impossible to accept Him as our supreme Teacher without accepting His statements concerning His great antagonist, to undo whose work brought the Son of God to earth.

The whole Gospel is a story of the duel in which our Lord forever worsted and mastered Satan. The conflict began with the lonely struggle of the temptation in the wilderness; it pervaded Christ’s earthly career; it culminated in the Cross. Its first note was, “If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread”; its last note was, “If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the Cross.” But when our Lord cried, “It is finished,” with the shout of a conqueror, He proclaimed to the universe that, though tempted to the uttermost, He had not yielded in one particular, that evil was not an eternal power, that wrong was not omnipotent. The Cross was the crisis of this world’s history: the prince of this world measured himself for one final wrestle with the Son of God. Had he succeeded, evil would have reigned; but since he failed he fell as lightning from heaven.

On this fact the Holy Spirit loves to dwell. He unfolds its full meaning. “See,” He says, “Christ has conquered for you, and in your nature. You meet a foe who is not invincible. Christ conquered, not for Himself, but for all who believe. The prince of this world has been judged and found wanting. He is condemned forevermore. Only abide in the last Adam, the Lord from heaven, and let Him abide in you, and He will repeat through you His olden victories.”

What a majestic thought is here! The world comes to us first with its fascinations and delights. She comes to us next with her frowns and tortures. Behind her is her prince. But since he has been cast out by a stronger than himself, and exists only on sufferance, his most potent bribes and lures, his most violent onsets, his most unscrupulous suggestions, must collapse. Believer, meet him as a discredited and fallen foe. He can have no power at all over thee. The Cross bruised his head. Thou hast no need to fear judgment. It awaits those only who are still in the devil’s power. But thou mayest rejoice that for thee a victory waits, the measure of which will only be explored when thou seest the devil cast into the bottomless pit, and thence into the lake of fire.