The Holy Spirit's Work in Salvation
REGENERATION is by the Spirit
"And you has He quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins." (Eph. 2:1) The quickening of those who are dead in trespasses, is the work of the third Person of the Trinity: "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit." (John 3:6) The natural man is spiritually dead. He is alive sinward and worldward—but dead Godward, "alienated from the life of God." (Eph. 4:18) If this solemn truth were really believed, there would be an end to controversy on our present subject. A dead man cannot "cooperate" with the Spirit, nor can he "accept Christ." In 2 Cor. 3:5 we read, "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything." That is said of Christians. If the regenerate have no capacity to "think" spiritually, still less are the unregenerate able to.
"The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God—for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them—because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor. 2:14) What could be plainer? The "natural man" is fallen in his unregenerate state. Unless he is born from above, he is completely devoid of spiritual discernment. Our Lord expressly declared, "Except a man is born again—he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3) The "natural man" cannot see himself, his ruin, his depravity, the filthiness of his own righteousness. No matter how plainly God's Truth is presented to him, being blind, he cannot discern either its meaning, spiritually—or suitedness to his need. A spiritual understanding of the Gospel is as truly due to the operation of the Holy Spirit—as that He is the Author of the divine Revelation. Spiritual life must precede spiritual sight, and the Spirit Himself must enter the heart before there is life. "I shall put My Spirit in you—and you shall live." (Ezek. 37:14)
The work of the Spirit in regeneration is a divine miracle which is the result of His forthputting of supernatural power. It is quickening of a spiritual corpse; it is the bringing of a dead soul to life. The sinner himself can no more accomplish it by an act of his own will—than he can create a universe. This miracle of grace is spoken of in Scripture as "the exceeding greatness of His power to us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead." (Eph. 1:19, 29) "The same power which was put forth to raise Christ from the dead—is put forth in regeneration. Christ's resurrection is the exemplary pattern of our spiritual resurrection, according to which, as the Spirit wrought in Him, so He works in us a work conformed to His resurrection. As Christ's resurrection is the first step to His eternal kingdom and glory, so regeneration is the first open introduction to all the blessings of that state of grace into which the child of God is now introduced." (S.E. Pierce)
FITNESS for Heaven is by the Spirit
Our title to the glory lies solely in the righteousness of Christ; our personal fitness for it lies in the Holy Spirit's regenerating of us. All our fitness for the heavenly state was wrought in us in regeneration. Writing to the regenerated Colossians the apostle said, "Giving thanks unto the Father, which has made us fit to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." And then he shows wherein this "fitness" consists: "'Who has delivered us from the power of darkness, and has translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son" (v. 13) Their title is outside of them; their "fitness" is within them. The Holy Spirit has created in them a nature which is capacitated to know and enjoy the Triune God.
In our unregenerate state, we were completely under the power of darkness, that is, of sin and Satan, and we were less able to deliver ourselves from this bondage—than Jonah was able to escape from the belly of the whale. We "sat in darkness" and "in the region and shadow of death." (Matt. 4:16) We were "captives," "bound" and in "prison." (Isaiah 61:1) We were those "having no hope, and without God in the world." (Eph. 2:12) From this dreadful state, every renewed soul has been "delivered" by the gracious, sovereign and invincible power of the Holy Spirit, and has been "translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son." Then let each renewed reader give equal homage, adoration and worship—to the Holy Spirit as to the Father and to the Son.
JUSTIFICATION and SANCTIFICATION are by the Spirit
"And such were some of you; but you are washed—but you are sanctified—but you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Cor. 6:11) This is a remarkable scripture, and little pondered. It would lead us too far away from our theme were we to attempt a full exposition of it. Two things here would we barely point out: the three saving blessings enumerated in this verse are referred, first, to the "name" or merits of Christ as His own procuring cause; and then to the Holy Spirit who makes the elect partakers of them by His own effectual application. He it is who enlightens their minds and opens their hearts to take in and be assured that they are "washed, sanctified and justified."
FAITH is from the Spirit
A deeply taught servant of God once wrote to a young preacher, "Never represent faith as being an act so "simple" that the work of the Spirit is not needed to produce it." Yet this is what has been commonly done. A great many of the evangelists of the past hundred years have displayed a zeal which was not according to knowledge (Romans 10:2), and manifested a far greater concern to see souls saved than to preach the truth of God in its purity. In their efforts to show the simplicity of the "way of salvation" they have lost sight of the difficulties of salvation (Luke 18:24; 1 Peter 4:18): in their pressing of the responsibility of man to believe, they have ignored the fact that none can believe until the Spirit imparts faith. To present Christ to the sinner and then throw him back on his own will, is to mock him in his helplessness; the work of the Spirit in the heart is as real and urgent a need—as was the work of Christ on the Cross. For the heart to truly believe in and trust God is a spiritual act, a "good fruit," and if fallen man possesses inherent power to do good, then to present the Atonement to him is altogether needless.
There is no middle ground between life and death; no intermediate stage between conversion and non-conversion. The bestowal of eternal life is instantaneous; we are "created in Christ Jesus." (Eph. 2:10) It is a most serious error to suppose that after the Spirit of God has done His work in the sinner, it still remains for him to say whether he shall be regenerated or not, whether he shall believe or not. All who are recipients of His supernatural operations are regenerated, effectually converted, and actually believe. It is not that the Spirit imparts the capacity to believe and then waits for the individual to exercise his will to believe: no, He works in the elect "both to will and to do." (Phil. 2:13) I may tell a man that in the next room there is a lighted lamp, and he may not believe me—but let me bring it into the room where he is, so, that he sees the light for himself, and he is irresistibly persuaded. So a servant of God may tell a man that Christ is sufficient for the chief of sinners, and he believes not; but when Christ is "revealed in him" (Gal. 1:16) he cannot but trust Him. See 2 Cor. 4:6.
How perversely man reverses the order of God's truth. They urge dead sinners to come to Christ, supposing they have the power or will to do so. Whereas Christ has plainly and emphatically stated that "No man can come to Me, except the Father who has sent Me, draws him." (John 6:44) "Coming to Christ" is the affections of the heart being drawn out towards Him, and how can a person love one he knows not? See John 4:10. Ah, it is the Spirit who must bring Christ to me, reveal Him in me before I can truly know Him. "Coming to Christ" is an inward and spiritual act, not an outward and natural one. Truly, "the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor. 2:14) We cannot so much as "see Christ" until we are born again. (John 3:3)
Saving grace is something more than an objective fact presented to us; it is a subjective operation wrought within us. As it is not by natural discernment that I discover my need of Christ, so it is not by my natural strength and will that I "come" to Him. There must be life and light (sight) before there can be motion. A babe has to be born, and have sight and strength, too, before it is able to "come" to its parent. Believing in Christ is a supernatural act, the product of supernatural power. One may, by means of grammatical phrases and scriptural propositions teach spiritual truth to another—but he cannot illumine his mind with respect thereto. He may tell a man that God is holy—but he cannot impart to him a consciousness that God is holy. He may tell him that sin is infinitely heinous—but he cannot beget in him a feeling or heart-realization that it is so.
To those who were well acquainted with them outwardly, Christ said, "You neither know Me nor My Father." (John 8:19) A man may "know" the way of righteousness" (2 Pet. 2:21) theoretically, intellectually—but that is a vastly different matter (though very few are inwardly aware of it) from a spiritual experimental acquaintance with it. "We having the same Spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believe, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak." (2 Cor. 4:13) Here the Spirit of God is spoken of according to the work that He performs.
"The title 'Spirit of faith' intimates that the Holy Spirit is the Author of faith; for all men have not faith; that is, it is not given to all and does not belong to all. (2 Thess. 3:2) The designation means that the procuring cause of faith is the Holy Spirit who produces this effect by an invisible call, an invitation which accompanies, according to the good pleasure of His will, the external proclamation of the Gospel. The faith, therefore, of which He is the Author, is not affected by the hearer's own strength—or by the hearer's own effectual will . . . The special operation of the Spirit inclines the sinner, previously disinclined, to receive the invitations of the Gospel; for it is He alone, acting as the Spirit of faith, that removes the enmity of the carnal mind to those doctrines of the cross which—but for this, would seem to him unnecessary—or foolish or offensive." (Smeaton)
Writing to the Philippian saints the apostle declared, "Unto you it is given . . . to believe on Him." (1:29) Faith is God's "gift" as Eph. 2:8,9 positively affirms. It is not a gift offered for man's acceptance—but actually conferred upon God's children, breathed into them. It in imparted to each of "God's elect" at His appointed time by the Holy Spirit. It is not produced by the creature's will, but is "faith of the operation of God." (Col. 2:12) It is the "work" of the Spirit, by His supernatural action. The Holy Spirit given by Christ to this end, that each of those for whom He died should be brought to a saving knowledge of the truth; therefore we are told "Who by Him (not by our wills) do believe in God." (1 Peter 1:21) In 1 Cor. 3:5 it is, said "by whom you believed, even as the Lord gave to every man"; so in Eph. 6:23 it is declared, "Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." The very degree and strength of our faith is determined solely by God: "think soberly, according as God has dealt to every man the measure of faith." (Rom.12:3) If by grace you are truly a "believer," let the reader give God the Spirit honor, glory, and praise for it.
Salvation is wholly APPLIED by the Spirit
"We are bound always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, beloved of the Lord, because God has from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth." (2 Thess. 2:13) The mission of the Spirit in the earth, is to apply to God's elect the redemption proposed by God the Father and purchased by God the Son for them. The Holy Spirit is here to make good to the souls of the heirs of glory—the fruits of the travail of Christ's soul. This He does by means of the Gospel by the written and oral ministry of the Scripture, for the Word of God is the only instrument He employs or uses. The Word of God is "the word of life" (Phil. 2:16)—but it only becomes such in the experience of the individual soul by the immediate operation and application of the Spirit of God. As Paul wrote to the Thessalonian saints, "For our Gospel came not unto you in word only—but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit." (1 Thess. 1:5) This is not to deny the efficacy of the Word itself—but it is to insist that the direct agency of the Spirit on the heart is absolutely necessary in order to the reception of the Word. The Word is a lamp unto our path—but there must be an opening of the eyes of our understandings by the Spirit, before we can see its light.
The salvation of God's elect was purposed, planned, and provided by God the Father before the foundation of the world. It was procured and secured by the incarnation, obedience, death and resurrection of God the Son. It is made known, applied to and wrought in them by God the Spirit. Thus, "Salvation is of the Lord" (Jonah 2:9), and man has no part or hand in it at any point whatever. The child of God is not the earner of salvation, but the recipient of it. Faith is not a condition which the elect sinner must perform in order to obtain salvation—but is the means and channel through which he personally enjoys the salvation of the Triune Jehovah.