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 xvi. 7-11.
I no not pretend to be able to explain to you the whole meaning of this text, or even more than a very small part of it. For it speaks of God; of God the Holy Spirit. And God is boundless; and, therefore, every text which speaks of God is boundless too, as God is. No man can ever see the whole meaning of it, or do more than understand dimly a little of its truth. But what we can see, we must think over and make use of. What can we see, now, from this text? First, we may see that the Holy Spirit, the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, is a person. Not a mere thing, or a state of our own hearts, or a feeling in us, or a power, like the powers and laws by which the trees and plants grow, and the sun and moon move in their courses; but a person, just as each of us is a person. He, the Holy Spirit, gives life to trees and plants, sun and moon: but He is not their life. He gives them their life; and, therefore, that life of theirs is not He, or He could not give it; for you can only give something which is not you.
The Scripture speaks of the Holy Spirit, not as it, but as He; as a person, and not as a thing; as a person who can speak to men's souls, guide and teach them.
"When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth; for He shall not speak of Himself."
But we may see also that the Holy Spirit is neither God the Father, nor the Lord Jesus Christ. For the Lord speaks of Him, the Holy Spirit, as a different person either from Him or from the Father. "The Spirit," He says, "shall glorify me; for He shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you."
But we may see also that there is no difference in will, or opinion, or love, between the Holy Spirit and the Father and the Son. For the Spirit does not speak of Himself; there is no self-will in Him. There is not one will of the Father, and another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost; or, one love of the Father, another love of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost; or, one righteousness of the Father, another of the Son, another of the Holy Ghost: or, one mercy and grace of the Father, another of the Son, another of the Holy Ghost. For then there would be three Gods and three Lords; and the substance of God would be divided. But they have all one will, and one love, and one righteousness, and one mercy. And such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost.
And remember always, that the Holy Spirit is very and indeed God. For He is the Spirit of holiness itself, of righteousness itself, of goodness itself, of love itself, of truth itself; and, therefore, He is the Spirit of God, who is the perfect holiness, and righteousness, and truth, and love. All other holiness, and righteousness, and truth, and love, are only pictures and patterns of God, just as the sun's reflection in water, or in a glass, is a picture and pattern of the sun. As the Epistle for to-day tells us: "Every good gift and every perfect is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights."
But the Spirit of God must be God. For else what do the words mean? Is not the spirit of a man, a man? Is not your spirit, what you call your soul, you? Is not your soul you, just as much as your body is you; ay, a hundred times more? Just so, the Spirit of God is God, God Himself; and the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, of the Holy Ghost, is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal.
This, then, is the glorious promise made to you, and to me, and to all who believe and are baptized into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; that that Spirit will come to us, and take charge of our spirits, and work in them, and teach them. We cannot see Him with our eyes, or hear Him with our ears; we cannot even feel Him at work in our hearts and thoughts. For He is a Spirit; and His likeness, the thing in this world which is a pattern of Him, is the wind; as indeed the name Spirit means. You cannot see the wind, you cannot even really feel the wind or hear it: you only know it by its effects, by what it does: by the noise among the branches, the force against your faces, the bending boughs, and flying dust. The Spirit bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, or whither it goeth; even so is every one who is born of the Spirit. On him the Spirit of God will work unseen, and unfelt, only to be discovered by the change which He makes in the man's heart and thoughts; and first by the way in which He convinces him of sin, because men believe not on Jesus Christ.
The Holy Spirit shows men that the sins of the world, the sin of all sins, the sin which is the root of all other sins, is not believing on the Lord Jesus Christ; that it was because they would not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, that they had been falling into every other sort of sin.
But you may say: "How could they believe on Him before He came, and was born in Judaea of the Virgin Mary? How could they believe on Him when He was not there?" Ah! my friends, who told you that the Lord Jesus Christ was not there in the world all along? Not the Bible, certainly. For the Bible tells us that He is the Light who lights every man who cometh into the world; that from Him came, and have come, all the right thoughts and feelings which ever arose in the heart of every human being. The Bible tells us that when God created the world, He was daily rejoicing in the habitable parts of the earth, and His delights were with the sons of men. The Bible tells us that He was in the world, and the world knew Him not; that all along, through the dark times of heathendom, the Lord Jesus Christ was a light shining in darkness, which the darkness could not close round, and hide and quench.
Not merely to the Jews, but to all heathens who hungered and thirsted after righteousness, did the Lord Jesus show something of His truth; as it is written, God is no acceptor of persons; that is, no shower of partiality, or unjust favour: but in every nation, he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted of Him.
But at the time that the Lord Jesus sent down His Holy Spirit, men were not working righteousness. There was not one who did good, no not one. For men had forgotten what righteousness was like, what a righteous man ought to do and be. Men are ready to forget it every day. You and I are ready to forget it, and invent some false righteousness of our own, not like Jesus Christ, but like what we in our private fancies think is most graceful, or most agreeable, or most easy; or most grand, and far-fetched, and difficult. But the Holy Spirit came to convince men of righteousness; to show them what true righteousness was like.
And how? In the same way that He must convince us of righteousness, if we are ever to know what righteousness is, or are ever to be righteous ourselves. He must show us goodness; or we shall never see it, or receive it, or copy it.
And where is this righteousness, this perfect goodness of which the Holy Spirit will convince us? Where, but in the Lord Jesus Christ? In the Lord Jesus's character, the Lord Jesus's good works; His love, His patience, His perfect obedience, His life, His death. The Holy Spirit, if we give up our hearts to be taught by Him, will make us believe, and be sure, and feel in our very inmost hearts, how noble, how beautiful, how holy, how perfectly Godlike, was He who was born of a poor virgin, who walked this earth for thirty-three years in toil and sorrow, who gave His back to the smiters, and His cheeks to them that plucked off the hair, and hid not His face from shame and spitting, who died upon a cross between two thieves. And the Holy Spirit will convince us of righteousness, by making us feel what the Lord Jesus's righteousness consisted in; what was the root of all His goodness and holiness, namely His perfect obedience to His Father and our Father in heaven. That is the righteousness, which is not our own, but God's; the righteousness which comes by faith; not to trust in ourselves, but in God; not to please ourselves, but God; not to do our own will, but God's will. That is the righteousness of Jesus Christ, which God set His seal on and approved, when He exalted Him far above all principality and powers, and set Him at His own right hand for a sign to all men, and angels, and archangels; that righteousness means to trust and to obey God even to the death.
3. Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.
This may seem a puzzling speech at first. We shall understand it best, I think, by considering who the prince of this world was in our Lord's time, and what he was like. A little before our Lord's time the Roman emperor had conquered almost the whole world which was then known, and kept all nations in slavery, careless about their doing right, provided they obeyed him and paid him tribute; nay, forcing them and tempting them into all brutal and foul sin and ignorance, that he might keep up his own power over man.
But now the Lord of all the earth, and the Prince of men's hearts and thoughts, was come to visit that poor enslaved and sinful world. He came; the princes of this world knew Him not, and crucified the Lord of Glory. They crucified the righteous and the just One; and so they were judged. They judged themselves; they condemned themselves. For they showed that what they admired and what they wanted was not righteousness and love, but wealth and power. They showed that no doing of good, no healing of the sick, or giving of sight to the blind, or preaching the gospel to the poor, no holiness, no love, not the perfect likeness of God's own goodness, which shone forth in the spotless Jesus, was anything to them; was any reason why they should not put Him to death with the most cruel torments, because they were afraid of His taking away their power. He said He was a King; and therefore they crucified Him, lest His kingdom should interfere with theirs; and for the same reason these same Roman emperors and their magistrates, for hundreds of years afterwards, persecuted the Christians, and hunted them down like wild beasts, and put them to death by all horrible tortures, for the same reason that Cain slew Abel; became his brother's deeds were righteous, and his own wicked.
So these Roman emperors, and their magistrates and generals were judged. They had shown what was in their evil hearts. They had been tried in God's balances, and found wanting. The sentence of the Lord God had gone forth against them. The man Christ Jesus, whom they rejected, God accepted, and raised to His own right hand. They crucified Him; but God gave Him all power in heaven and earth: and the Lord Jesus used His power; yea, and uses it still. He gave His saints and martyrs strength to defy those Roman tyrants, and to witness to all the earth that the righteous Son of God was the King of heaven and earth, and that the princes of this world, who wished to break His yoke off their necks, and crush all nations to powder for their own pleasure, and fatten themselves upon the plunder of all the earth, would surely come to naught, as it is written in the second Psalm: "The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and His Anointed. Yet have I set my King upon my holy hill of Zion. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron: thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel."
And they did come to naught. That great Roman empire rotted away miserably after years of such distress as had never been seen on the earth before; and the emperors came, one after another, to shameful or dreadful deaths. And all the while the gospel spread, and the Church grew, till all the kingdoms of the Roman empire had become the kingdoms of God and of His Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit working in men's hearts, and showing them, as our Lord said He would, that Jesus of Nazareth was both Lord and King. And so was fulfilled the Lord's words in the gospel for to-day: "The Holy Spirit shall glorify me, for He shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine; therefore said I that He should take of mine, and show it unto you."
Oh my friends, pray for yourselves, and join me while I pray for you, that the holy and righteous Spirit of God may convince you, and me, and all mankind, more and more, day by day, of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.
Pray to that Holy Spirit to convince you of sin day by day, whensoever you do the least wrong thing. Pray to Him to keep your consciences tender and quick, that you may feel instantly, and lament deeply, every wrong thing you do.
Pray to Him to give you, every time you do wrong, that godly sorrow which brings peace and health, that heart-repentance never to be repented of. Pray to Him to convince you more and more, as you grow older, that all sin comes from not believing in Jesus Christ, not believing that He is near you, with you, in you, putting into your hearts all right thoughts and good desires, and willing, if you will, to help you to put those thoughts and desires into good practice.
Pray to the Holy Spirit to convince you more and more of righteousness; to make you see what righteousness is; that it is the very character and likeness of God the Father, because it is the character and likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was the brightness of the Father's glory, and the express image of His person. Pray to Him to make you see the beauty of holiness: how fair, and noble, and glorious a thing goodness is; how truly Solomon says: "that all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it."
Pray to the Holy Spirit to convince you more and more of judgment, and to make you sure that the Lord is King, a righteous Judge, of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, whose fan is in His hand, who thoroughly purges His floor, who comes quickly, and His reward is with Him, and who surely casts out of His kingdom, sooner or later, all things that offend, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie. Pray to Him to make you sure by faith, though you cannot see it, that the prince of this world is judged; that evil doing, oppression, tyranny, injustice, cheating, neglect of man by man, cannot and will not prosper upon the face of God's earth; for the everlasting sentence and wrath of God is revealed forth every moment against all unrighteousness of men, which He will surely punish, yea, and does hourly punish by Him by whom He judges the world, Jesus Christ, the Lord, who is exalted high above all principalities and powers, and has all power given to Him in heaven and earth, which He uses, as He used it in Judaea of old, utterly and always for the good of all mankind, whom He hath redeemed with His most precious blood.
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