The Outline Of The Spirit's Program
“When He is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.”—John 16:8
“My Father worketh hitherto, and I work,” Jesus explained to the irate Jews who strenuously objected to His healing a paralytic on the Sabbath. Scarcely two years later, He made it clear that the Holy Spirit would work too. “I will send him unto you,” He assured, “and when he is come he will convince the world.”
A strange mission? Singular but not strange. It is unique and essential. And for more than 1900 years the Spirit of God has been performing this notable ministry. The word “reprove” means to convince or to convict. Men must be convinced concerning matters of eternal consequence. It is a ministry not desired but needed. Men convinced against their will are of the same opinion still, we are reminded. But here the adage breaks down. The Holy Spirit convinces most men, if not all men who are convinced at all, against their will. He brings them to repentance, and that is a change of mind. The natural man is at enmity against God. He resents being termed a sinner. His pride is injured when told that his self-righteousnesses are as filthy rags. His soul rebels at any attempt to curb his lustful tendencies. He decries the idea of retribution. The Holy Spirit undertakes to confute his preconceptions and to convict him of his erroneous notions.
Only God can perform such a ministry. The Holy spirit is God. He not only can but does perform it. Go up to a man and tell him he is a sinner, that he is an enemy of God, that the Lord will judge him in due course. Now that the big announcement is made, combine tact and diplomacy with your best forensic logic in an attempt to make him believe it. His reaction will be immediate, emphatic and uncomplimentary. It is the Holy Spirit and not man who convinces humankind of condemning sinfulness to the point of tearful, sobbing acknowledgment. Only the Holy Spirit would convince a Hebrew of the Hebrews, a Pharisee without guile, that he was chief of sinners.
Some years ago a man was ordered to a mental institution for treatment. Two physicians, relatives and friends tried with gentle insistence to convince him that he needed such treatment, all to no avail. He refused to go. Trying to avoid force, a further attempt was made. Still no success. Finally, he said, “If the pastor tells me to go, I will go. But I will not go for anyone else.” The pastor was contacted and given the assignment of convincing this man that he was a mental case. Not an easy assignment, but more possible than convincing a man that he is a sinner.
Some years ago, we observed a Christian woman pleading with her brother to accept Christ as his personal Saviour. Her entreaties were met with a fixed indifference. The brother extolled his merits, said he paid his bills, showed kindness to his family, and regularly “said” his prayers. The concerned sister with unsuppressed feeling committed him to One who can work in the heart. The next morning the writer was called to that home where we found the brother sitting on the floor in an empty attic room. He said he had paced the floor all night, walked out into his garden, tried in vain to sleep, then repaired to this lonely spot where he might relieve his heavy heart unheard by members of the family. This is by no means an isolated case. On the Day of Pentecost, great numbers were pricked in their hearts and cried aloud, “What must we do to be saved!”
This new ministry was carefully outlined by the Lord Jesus before His death, resurrection and ascension. He prefaced the actual revelation by saying that it was to the advantage of men that He should go and that the Holy Spirit should come. The full advantage has never been comprehended, but our Lord’s announcement is our key to a better understanding and appreciation of it. “He will convince mankind of sin, righteousness and of judgment,” Jesus stated. Nor did He simply add “because,” allowing us to fill out the sentence in twenty-five words or less. Each “because” is followed by an enlightening fact which opens up a wide field of wonderful truth.
“He will convince of sin BECAUSE they believe not on me,” was the first phase of the Spirit’s outlined endeavor. Here is purpose with its stated reason. Sin is subtle, non-perturbing, gladly welcomed, blindly practiced until the Spirit’s pungent conviction unveils its hideous, harmful, grossly pernicious and heaven-condemning character. Unbelief does not give up readily nor without a struggle. Conviction alone is the instrument which cuts into the roots of this judgment-producing curse. The heart of man was never made for such an unholy and unsavory resident. When the heart is awakened to this fact, its presence becomes both uncomfortable and undesired. It is then the heart cries, “What can wash away my sin?” The Holy Spirit, who came to exalt the Lord and to apply the merits of His sacrificial work at Calvary, is there to assuringly reply, “Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
If we could trace sin in all its horrible and heinous machinations and ramifications, follow its slimy course through the innumerable bypaths of its unspeakable developments, see its broken and bleeding wrecks strewn along the highway of time, hear the torturous cries of writhing disillusionment, grief and remorse, we might begin to understand something of the infinite scope of and the imperative need for the Spirit’s convicting work. Add to this the staggering fact of eternal consequences—the blackness of darkness for ever, the lake of fire, the endless non-satisfaction of inordinate cravings, the inseparable association of the “abominable, the murderers, the whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and liars” in an odious atmosphere of everlasting ungodliness. This is something of the pit into which iniquity pours, and the sinner goes in the turbulent way of his sins except he is convinced of the Holy Spirit concerning this dread reality. Then, he becomes willing to be led to the place of safety and security.
The Holy Spirit not only convicts men of sin but convinces them of righteousness as well. What a contrast! What a coverage! He not only says, “Put off the old man,” but He urgently pleads, “Put on the new!” This thrusts us beyond the moral realm. It carries us into the boundless sphere of the spiritual. Being good is one thing. Becoming righteous is quite another. Being good results from careful conduct; becoming righteous develops from constant believing. Believing is obedience to the divine will; obedience is yielding to Holy Spirit guidance. Being holy, the Spirit deals only in righteousness.
Man has lost all sense of his divinely appointed destiny. His sense of spiritual appraisal is gone. He possesses no measure or standard by which he can evaluate that which is eternal. He studies intrinsic values; he weighs earthly privilege; he gauges his success by the degree of his inward satisfaction or by the extent of another’s failure. This, of course, is materialism in its basic character. It blinds the vision, hardens the heart and dulls the conscience. It may allow for religion but has no room for God. It can lead to the point where the emphasis, uttered or unexpressed, is, “Let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”
Now, here is where the teaching of the Lord finds its application. “He will convince the world of sin BECAUSE I go to the Father,” He explained. The very first suggestion here is the fact that death does not end all. Jesus was facing death, but He was going somewhere afterward. All face death, and all are going somewhere afterward. Jesus was going to His Father. His Father is righteous. One must be righteous in order to go to the Father. There is another destiny for the unrighteous. The Holy Spirit convinces of this fact.
Another very precious thought is that, even though Jesus became sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him, he nevertheless remained unaffectedly righteous. Otherwise, how could He have returned to the Father? Can sin enter heaven? Never!
We have a high priest “who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens.” This is our incentive to holiness, but men cannot know righteousness, indeed do not know righteousness, until the persuasive, enlightening influence of the Holy Spirit is allowed to overpower the feeble and fallacious conceptions we entertain concerning the solemn majesty of One who is thrice holy.
Here again, we have no system of measurement. We set up a moral code and attempt to shape our lives accordingly. We say to ourselves, “This is good and this is bad. This is right and this is wrong.” Our own conscience becomes the supreme court of discrimination. How faulty is our reasoning. There is a tidal wave of influences which constantly alters our judgments. Custom and climate play a perceptible part. We do what others do. One day we listed in our “bad books” matters which gradually became tolerable and eventually were approved. Warmth has become a legitimate excuse for immodesty. Beaches and parks today produce sights which would have caused nausea in Sodom and Gomorrah. The Holy Spirit can convince anyone who is willing that this is not righteousness; therefore degrading rather than exalting.
Jesus, the spotless One, has gone to the Father. From that vantage point He looks down on the children of men. Why? “To see if there were any that did understand, and seek God,” David reminds us in Psalm 14. The proper understanding comes through the Spirit’s leading and enlightening. He points out sin in the conduct and produces a longing, even a hunger and thirst for righteousness. This is the main import of Isaiah’s experience. “Woe is me!” he lamented. “I am a man of unclean lips…I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” It all came about because he got a vision of the Lord of hosts in all His holiness. Then he called for purging; then he began to seek God. Friend, the Holy Spirit alone can do this. No amount of self-effort will accomplish it.
The Holy Spirit convinces men of judgment BECAUSE the prince of this world is judged. If the prince is judged, then all who follow him will likewise be judged, and with the same judgment—even with the same penalty. The Great Judge will announce in solemn tone, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil (prince) and his angels.” The so-called Jehovah’s Witnesses are not convinced of this fact because they do not believe in the personality of the Holy Spirit. How else could they be convinced? Ignore the Holy Spirit and you rob yourself of His important ministry. The eyes then remain unopened; the heart remains unaffected; the feet remain unled. The best one can do under such circumstances is to attempt to pick a path through the jungle of reason. This, as man’s best, is a pathetically poor substitute for the unerring guidance of the omniscient member of the Godhead whom Jesus sent to guide us. Jeremiah said, “It is not in the man that walketh to direct his steps.” If man has no effective steering agent inherently available to direct his course to the realm of eternal bliss, he must seek an external agent. There is but one. That one is the Holy Spirit.
Surely our experiences with men have taught us that some supernatural force is necessary to convince the hearts of men in matters of such solemn import. And this is the ministry of the Holy Spirit for this age.