Master Sermon List
The Work of the Holy Spirit
by John Owen
The General Work of the Holy Spirit.
The first general work of the Holy Spirit is to bring to mind the words and promises of Christ (John 14:26). There are two promises in this verse. There is the promise of the Spirit's teaching, which I will deal with under his work of anointing believers, and there is the promise of "bringing to remembrance all things that Jesus said."
The work of bringing to remembrance things that Jesus said is the first general promise concerning the Spirit's work as comforter.
This promise first concerned the apostles. Christ promised his apostles that the Holy Spirit would bring back to their minds, by a direct work of almighty power, the things that he had said to them, so that by his inspiration they might be enabled to write and preach them for the good and benefit of his church (2 Pet. 1:21). The apostles had forgotten much of what Christ had said to them, or might possibly do so. And what they did remember by their natural ability was not a sufficient foundation for them to write an infallible rule of faith for the church. It would be by this work of the Spirit that they would be enabled to write such an infallible rule of faith.
This promise of bringing to remembrance all the things that Jesus had spoken is also for the comfort of believers. Christ had been speaking to his disciples to comfort them by giving them precious promises of his help and strength in this life. He told them of the love of the Father, of the glory he was providing for them, which was full of unspeakable joy. "But," Christ says, "I know how unable you are to make use of these things for your own comfort. The Spirit, therefore, will bring them back to your minds in their full strength, so that you will find that comfort in them which I intended." And this is one reason why it was necessary for believers that Christ's bodily absence should be more than made up for by the presence of the Spirit.
While he was with them, what little effect his promises had on their hearts! But when the Spirit came, how full of joy did he make all things to them. He brings the promises of Christ to our minds and hearts to comfort us, to bring us the joy of them and that far beyond the joy the disciples found in them when Christ spoke to them on earth. The gracious influences of the promises were then restrained so that the dispensation of the Spirit might be seen to be more glorious than that of the giving of the law.
Christ told the disciples that the effect of the Holy Spirit's work in bringing things to their remembrance would be peace (John 14:27). They would be freed from worried, anxious minds and fearful hearts. It is stupid to rely on our natural abilities to remember the promises of Christ. But when the Comforter undertakes the work, then all is well. Our Savior Christ, then, left to his Spirit the powerful effect of his promises which he personally gave his apostles in their great distress. We may therefore see where all the spiritual comfort we have in this world comes from, and so we may have fellowship with the Holy Spirit in this his work.
The Holy Spirit does his work powerfully. A believer may be in the saddest and darkest condition imaginable. Even so, the Holy Spirit is able to break through all this and bring to mind the promises of Christ. By this work, the Holy Spirit enables Christians to sit in dungeons, rejoice in flames and glory in troubles. If he brings to mind the promises of Christ for our comfort, neither Satan nor man, neither sin nor the world, nor even death itself shall take away our comfort. Saints who have communion with the Holy Spirit know this only too well. Sometimes the heavens are black over them and the earth trembles under them. Disasters and distresses appear which are so full of horror and darkness that they are tempted to give up in despair. So how greatly are their spirits revived when the Holy Spirit brings the words of Christ to their minds for their comfort and joy. Thus, believers are not dependent on outward circumstances for their happiness, for they have the inward and powerfully effective work of the Holy Spirit to whom they give themselves up by faith.
The Holy Spirit does his work sovereignly. The Holy Spirit distributes to everyone as he wills. So the believer may at one time be full of joy and, at another, full of distress. Every promise at one time brings great joy when troubles are great and heavy; yet at another time, when only suffering a little, he finds no joy in the promises, however much he seeks for it. The reason is simple. The Holy Spirit distributes as he wills. So there are no rules or course of procedure given to us to follow in order to get peace and joy in the promises. In this way, faith learns to wait on the sovereign will and pleasure of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit works freely and without payment. Because much of the comfort which comes by the promises depends on the sovereign will of the Holy Spirit, so we find that comfort comes unexpectedly when the heart has every reason in the world to expect distress and sorrow. This is often the first means of restoring a backsliding soul who might justly be expecting to be utterly cast off.
The life and soul of all our comforts are treasured up in the promises of Christ. They are the breasts from which we suck the milk of godly comfort. Who does not know how powerless these promises are in the bare letter, even though we may meditate long on them, as well as how unexpectedly they burst in on the soul, bringing great comfort and joy. Faith deals especially with the Holy Spirit. Faith considers the promises themselves, looks up to the Spirit and waits for the Spirit to bring life and comfort into them. No sooner does the soul begin to feel the life of a promise warming his heart, freeing him from fear, worries and troubles, than it may know, and it ought to know, that the Holy Spirit is doing his work. This will add to the believer's joy and lead him into deeper fellowship with the Holy Spirit.
The second general work of the Holy Spirit is to glorify Christ (John 16:14). If the work of the Spirit is to glorify Christ, then we may see what sort of a spirit that is who sets himself up in the place of Christ, calling himself "the vicar of Christ" or "another Christ." The work of the Comforter is to glorify Christ. So any spirit that claims to be of Christ and does not seek to glorify that Christ who spoke to his apostles is clearly a false spirit.
But how will the Comforter glorify Christ? "He," says Christ, "shall take of mine." What these things are is told us in the next verse. "All things that the Father has are mine, therefore I said he shall take of mine." Christ is not speaking of the essence and essential properties of the Father and the Son, but he is speaking of the grace which is brought to us by the Father and the Son. This is what Christ calls "my things," because they are the "things" purchased by his mediation. They are also the "things of the Father," because in his eternal love, he has provided them to be brought to us by the blood of his Son. They are the fruits of his election. "These," said Christ, "the Comforter shall receive. They shall be committed to him so that he may bring them to you for your good and for your comfort in trouble. So he shall show, declare and make them known to you." As Comforter, he reveals to the souls of sinners the good things of the covenant of grace, which the Father has provided and the Son has purchased. He shows to us mercy, grace, forgiveness, righteousness and acceptance with God.
It is vital to know that these are the things of Christ which he has procured for us. They are shown to us for our comfort and establishment. These things the Holy Spirit effectively conveys to the souls of believers, and makes them known to them for their own good; that they were originally from the Father, prepared from eternity in his love and good will; that they were purchased for them by Christ and laid up for them in the covenant of grace for their use. In this way, Christ is magnified and glorified in their hearts and they then fully realize what a glorious Savior and Redeemer he is. It is by the work of the Holy Spirit that a believer glorifies and honors Christ for the eternal redemption he has purchased for him. "No-one can say that Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:3).
The third general work of the Holy Spirit is to "...pour the love of God into our hearts" (Romans 5:5). That it is the love of God to us and not our love to God which is here meant is clear from the context. The love of God is either the love of his purpose to do us good or the love of acceptance and approval by him. Both these are called the love of God in Scripture. Now, how can these be poured into our hearts? This can be done only by giving us a spiritual understanding of them. God pours the Holy Spirit abundantly on us and he pours out the love of God into our hearts. That is, the Holy Spirit so persuades us that God loves us that our souls are filled with joy and comfort. This is his work and he does it effectively. To persuade a poor, sinful soul that God in Jesus Christ loves him, delights in him, is well pleased with him and only has thoughts of kindness towards him is an inexpressible mercy.
This is the special work of the Holy Spirit and by this special work we have communion with the Father in his love, which is poured into our hearts. So not only do we rejoice in and glorify the Holy Spirit who does this work, but in the Father also, whose love it is. It is the same in respect of the Son, in taking the things of Christ and showing them to us. What we have of heaven in this world lies in this work of the Holy Spirit.
The fourth general work of the Holy Spirit is to bear witness with our spirits that we are the children of God (Romans 8:16). Sometimes the soul wonders whether it is a child of God or not, because so much of the old nature still remains. So the soul brings out all the evidences to prove its claim to be a true child of God. To support this claim, the Holy Spirit comes and bears witness that the claim is true.
The picture is that of judicial proceedings in a court of law. The judge being seated, the person concerned lays his claim, produces his evidences and pleads his case. Then a person of known and approved integrity comes into the court and testifies on behalf of the claimant. This stops the mouth of all the adversaries and fills the man that pleaded with joy and satisfaction. It is the same with the believer. The soul, by the power of his own conscience, is brought before the law of God. There the soul puts in his plea that he is a true child of God that he does indeed belong to God's family, and to prove this, he produces all his evidences, everything by which faith gives him a right and title to God. Satan, in the meantime, opposes with all his might. Sin and the law add their opposition also. Many flaws are found in his evidences. The truth of them all is questioned and the soul is left in doubt as to whether he is a child of God or not. Then the Comforter comes and by a word of promise or in some other way, overwhelms the heart with a sure persuasion, putting down all objections, showing that his plea is good and that he is indeed a child of God. And therefore the Holy Spirit is said to "witness with our spirits that we are children of God."
At the same time, he enables us to show our love to the Father by acts of obedience to his will, which is called "crying Abba, Father" (Gal. 4:6). But as the Holy Spirit works sovereignly of his own will and pleasure, the believer may be kept in doubt for a long time. The law sometimes seems to prevail, sin and Satan to rejoice and the poor soul is filled with dread about his inheritance. Perhaps by his own witness, from his faith, sanctification and previous experience, he keeps up his claim with some life and comfort. But the work is not done, the conquest is not fully won, until the Spirit, who works freely and effectively, when and how he wills, comes in with his testimony also. Clothing his power with his promise, he makes all parties concerned listen to him and so puts an end to the whole dispute.
In this, he gives us holy fellowship with himself. The soul knows his voice when he speaks. There is something too great in that voice to be only the voice of some created power. When the Lord Jesus Christ at one word stilled the storm, all who were with him knew there was divine power at work (Matt. 8:25-27). And when the Holy Spirit with one word stills the storms in the soul, bringing calm and assurance, then the soul knows by experience that divine power is present and so rejoices in that presence.
The fifth general work of the Holy Spirit is His work in sealing us (Ephesians 1:13; 4:30). To seal something is to impart the image of the seal to the thing sealed. The character of the seal is stamped on the things sealed. In this sense, the effective communication of the image of God to us should be our sealing. The Spirit in believers, really communicating the image of God in righteousness and true holiness to the soul, seals us. To have the stamp of the Holy Spirit as an evidence to the soul that he has been accepted by God is to be sealed by the Spirit. In this sense, Christ is said to be sealed by God (John 6:27). He had impressed on him the power, wisdom and majesty of God.
"Sealing" confirms or ratifies any grant or conveyance made in writing. In such cases, men set their seals to make good and confirm their grants. When this is done, the grants are irrevocable. Sealing also confirms the testimony that is given by anyone of the truth of anything. This is what the Jews did. When anyone had given true witness to any thing or matter and it was received by the judges, they instantly set their seals to it, to confirm it in judgment. So it is said that he who receives the testimony of Christ "sets to his seal that God is true" (AV) or "has certified that God is true" (John 3:33). The promise is the great grant and conveyance of life and salvation in Christ to the souls of believers. That we may have full assurance of the truth and the irrevocability of the promise, God gives us the Spirit to satisfy our hearts of it. So the Spirit is said to seal us by assuring our hearts of those promises and the faithfulness of the God who promised. But though many expositors take this line, I do not see how this accords with the true meaning of the word. It is not said that the promise is sealed, but that we are sealed. And when we seal a deed or grant to anyone, we do not say the man is sealed, but that the deed or grant is sealed.
Sealing denotes possession and assurance of being kept safe. The object sealed is separated out from unsealed objects. Men set their seals on that which they possess and desire to keep safe for themselves. So quite clearly, in this sense, the servants of God are said to be sealed. They are marked with God's mark as his special ones (Ezek. 9:4). So believers are sealed when they are marked for God to be the heirs of the purchased possession and to be kept safe to the day of redemption. Now if this is what is meant, it does not denote the giving of assurance in the heart, but of giving security to the person. The Father gives the elect into the hands of Christ to be redeemed. Christ having redeemed them, in due time they are called by the Spirit and marked for God, and so they give themselves up to the care of the Father.
We are sealed for the day of redemption when, from the stamp, image and character of the Spirit upon our souls, we have a fresh awareness of the love of God given to us, with an assured persuasion of our being accepted by God.
So the Holy Spirit communicates to us his own likeness, which is also the image of the Father and the Son (2 Cor. 3:18). In this work of his, the Holy Spirit brings us into fellowship with himself. Our likeness to him gives us boldness with him. We look for his works. We pray for his fruits, and when any effect of grace, any awareness of the image of Christ implanted in us persuades and assures us that we are separated and set apart for God, and then we have communion with the Holy Spirit in his work of sealing.
The sixth work of the Holy Spirit is His being an "Earnest" of "deposit" or "guarantee" (1 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:13, 14). From these verses, we learn that the Spirit himself is the "earnest, deposit or guarantee." Each of these words denotes a pledge. A pledge is that property which anyone gives or leaves in the safe keeping of another, to assure him that he will give him, or pay him all that he has promised at some future date. But that which is meant by "earnest, deposit or guarantee" here is a part of that which is to come. An "earnest" is part of the price of anything, or part of any grant given beforehand to assure the person to whom it is given that at the appointed time he shall receive the promised whole.
For a thing to be an "earnest, deposit or guarantee," it must be part of the whole. It must be of the same kind and nature with the whole, just as if we have some money as an "earnest, deposit or guarantee" that the whole amount will be paid later.
It must be a guarantee of a promise. First, the whole is promised, then the "earnest" is given as a deposit or guarantee that the promise will be fulfilled. The Holy Spirit is this "earnest." God gives us the promise of eternal life. To guarantee this to us, he gives us his Spirit. So the Spirit is the "earnest, the deposit, the guarantee" of the full inheritance that is promised and purchased.
The Holy Spirit is an "earnest, deposit and guarantee" on God's part, because God gives him as the best part of the inheritance itself, and because the Holy Spirit is of the same kind and nature as the whole inheritance, as an "earnest" ought to be. The full inheritance promised is the fulness of the Spirit in the enjoyment of God. When that Spirit which is given to us in this world has perfectly taken away all sin and sorrow and has made us able to enjoy the glory of God in his presence, that is the full inheritance promised. So that the Spirit given to us to make us fit for the enjoyment of God in some measure whilst we are here is the "earnest or guarantee" of the whole.
God does this to assure us of the inheritance and to guarantee it to us. Having given us his Word, promises, covenant, oath, the revelation of his faithfulness and his immutability as guarantees, all of which exist outside us, he also graciously gives us his Spirit to dwell within us, so that we may have all the security and guarantee of which we are capable (Isa. 59:21). What more can be done? He has given us his Holy Spirit. In him we have the first-fruits of glory, the utmost pledge of his love, the earnest or guarantee of the whole.
The Holy Spirit is also the "earnest, deposit or guarantee" on the part of believers because he gives them an awareness of the love of God for them. The Holy Spirit makes known to believers their acceptance with God, that he is their Father and will deal with them as with children and so, consequently, the inheritance will be theirs. He sends his Spirit into their hearts, "crying Abba, Father" (Gal. 4:6). And what inference do believers draw from this? "Now we are not servants, but sons, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ" (Gal. 4:7; Rom. 8:17). So as children of God, we have a right to the inheritance. Of this the Holy Spirit assures us.
The Holy Spirit acquaints believers with their inheritance (1 Cor. 2:9, 10). As the "earnest" is the part of the whole, so by the "earnest" we get a foretaste of the whole. By the Holy Spirit, then, we get a foretaste of the fulness of that glory which God has prepared for those that love him and the more communion we have with the Holy Spirit as an "earnest," the more we taste of that heavenly glory that awaits us.
The seventh general work of the Holy Spirit is to anoint believers (2 Corinthians 1:21; I John 2:20, 27). Of the many endowments of Christ which he had from the Spirit with which he was anointed, wisdom, counsel and understanding are the chief things (Isa. 11:2, 3). On account of this, all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are said to be in him (Col. 2:3). So the anointing of believers is associated with teaching (1 John. 2:20, 27). The work of the "anointing" is to teach us. The Spirit who anoints us is therefore the Spirit of wisdom, of counsel, of knowledge and understanding in the fear of the Lord. So the great promise of the Comforter was that he should "teach us" (John 14:26). Christ promised that the Comforter would "guide us into all truth" (John 16:13). This teaching us the mind and will of God in the way in which we are taught it by the Spirit our Comforter is the chief part of our anointing by him.
The Spirit teaches by conviction and illumination. So the Spirit teaches the world by the preaching of the Word as promised (John 16:8).
The Spirit teaches by sanctification. He opens blind eyes, gives new understanding, shines into our hearts to give us the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ and enables us to receive spiritual things in a spiritual light (1 Cor. 2:13). He gives a saving knowledge of the mystery of the gospel. All this is common to believers.
The Spirit teaches by comforting. He makes sweet, useful and joyful to the soul that which he, as the Spirit of sanctification, reveals of the mind and will of God. Here the oil of the Spirit is called the "oil of gladness," because he brings joy and gladness with his teaching. And the name of Christ is experienced as sweet "ointment poured forth," that causes souls to run after him with joy and delight (Song 1:3). We see it in daily experience that very many have little taste and relish in their souls for these truths which they believe for salvation. But when we are taught by this "anointing," how sweet is everything we learn of God!
The Spirit teaches us of the love of God in Christ. He makes every gospel truth like well-refined wine to our souls and the good things of the gospel to be a rich feast of good things. He gives us joy and gladness of heart with all that we know of God, which is the great way of keeping the soul close to the truth. By this anointing, the soul is kept from being seduced into error. Truth will readily be exchanged for error when no more sweetness and joy is to be found in it than is to be found in the error. When we find any of the good truths of the gospel coming home to our souls with power, giving us gladness of heart and transforming us into the image and likeness of it, the Holy Spirit is then at his work. He is pouring out his oil.
The Spirit is also the "Spirit of supplication" (Zech. 12:10). It is he who enables us to pray rightly and effectively. Our prayers may be considered as a spiritual duty required by God. So they are wrought in us by the Spirit of sanctification, who helps us to perform all our duties by exalting all the faculties of the soul. Our prayers may be considered as a means of keeping up communion with God. The soul is never more lifted up with the love of God than when by the Spirit it is taken into communion with God in prayer. This is the work of the Spirit as comforter.
Here, then, is the wisdom of faith. Faith looks for and meets with the Comforter in all these works of his. Let us not, then, lose their sweetness by remaining in the dark about them, nor fall short of the response required of us in gratitude.
The Holy Spirit and the Hearts of Believers.
The Holy Spirit comforts and strengthens the hearts of believers (Acts 9:31). This is the chief work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers. He brings the troubled soul to rest and contentment by getting the believer to think of some spiritually good thing or actually brings some spiritually good thing to him. This spiritual good is such that it completely overcomes that trouble which the soul has been wrestling with. Where comfort is mentioned, it is always associated with trouble or suffering (2 Cor. 1:5, 6).
This comfort is everlasting (2 Thess. 2:16). It does not come and go. It abides for ever, because it comes from everlasting things, such as everlasting love, eternal redemption and an everlasting inheritance.
This comfort is strong (Heb. 6:18). As we experience strong opposition and trouble, so our comfort or consolation is strong and so unconquerable. It confirms and strengthens the heart under any evil. It fortifies the soul and makes it able cheerfully to undergo anything that it is called to undergo. This comfort is strong because he who brings it is strong.
This comfort is precious. So Paul makes it the great motive to obedience to which he exhorts the Philippians (Phil. 2:1). The fellowship we have with the Holy Spirit lies, in no small part, in the comfort or consolation we receive from him. This teaches us to value his love, to look to him in our troubles, and to wait on him for his everlasting, strong, precious comfort.
The Holy Spirit brings peace to the hearts of believers (Rom. 15:13). The power of the Holy Spirit not only refers to "hope" but also to our peace in believing. When Christ promised to give the Comforter to his disciples, he also promised to give them his peace (John 14:26, 27). Christ gives his peace by giving the Comforter. The peace of Christ lies in the soul's assurance of being accepted by God in personal friendship. So Christ is said to be "our peace" (Eph. 2:14). He slays the enmity between God and us, "having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us" (Col. 2:14). Being assured of our justification and acceptance with God in Christ is the foundation of our peace (Rom. 5:1). To know that we are delivered from eternal wrath, from being hated, cursed and condemned, fills the soul with joy and peace.
Nevertheless, this peace of heart is by the sovereign will and pleasure of the Holy Spirit. A man may be chosen in the eternal love of the Father, redeemed by the blood of the Son and justified freely by the grace of God so that he has a right to all the promises of the gospel. Yet this person can, by no reasonings or persuasions of his own heart, by no considerations of the promises of the gospel, nor of the love of God or grace of Christ in them, be brought to that peace until it is produced in him by the Holy Spirit. "Peace" is the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).
The Holy Spirit brings joy to the hearts of believers. The Spirit is called "the oil of gladness" (Heb. 1:9). His anointing brings gladness with it (Isa. 61:3). "The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 14:17). The Thessalonians received the word with joy in the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 1:6; I Pet. 1:8). To give joy to the hearts of believers is chiefly the work of the Holy Spirit. He enables believers to "rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Rom. 5:2). This joy is produced by the Spirit pouring into our hearts the love of God and so carrying them through every kind of tribulation (Rom. 5:5).
The Holy Spirit produces joy in the hearts of believers directly by himself without using any other means. As in sanctification he is a well of water springing up in the soul, so in "comforting" he fills the souls and minds of men with spiritual joy. When he pours out the love of God in our hearts, he fills them with joy, just as he caused John to leap for joy in Elizabeth's womb when the mother of Jesus approached. This joy, the Holy Spirit works when and how he wills. He secretly injects this joy into the soul, driving away all fears and sorrows, filling it with gladness and causing it to exult, sometimes with unspeakable raptures of the mind.
The Holy Spirit produces joy in the hearts of believers by his other works with respect to us. He assures us of the love of God and of our acceptance with God and our adoption into his family. When we think about this, the Holy Spirit brings the truth home to us with joy. If we consider all the things the Holy Spirit does for us and in us, we will soon see what a strong foundation he lays in our hearts for our continual joy and gladness. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit works joy in us as and when he pleases according to his sovereign will and pleasure. This way of producing joy in the heart, David describes as "having his head anointed with oil" (Psa. 23:5, 6). And the result of this anointing, David says, is, "surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life." In Isaiah we have a wonderful description of the work of the Comforter (see Isaiah 35).
The Holy Spirit brings hope to the hearts of believers (Rom. 15:13). The great hope of the believer is to be like Christ and to enjoy God in Christ for ever. "And," says John, "everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure" (1 John 3:3). By showing "the things of Christ" to us and by "glorifying Christ" in our hearts, the Holy Spirit arouses our desires to be like Christ and so we grow and increase in our hope, which is one way by which the Holy Spirit sanctifies us.
These are the general works of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers, which, if we consider them and all that they produce, will bring joy, assurance, boldness, confidence, expectation and glorying. We shall then see how much our whole communion with God is enriched and influenced by them.