The Holy Spirit's Ministry to Men
By Al Stoner
“And when He (the Comforter) is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (Jn. 16:8). “And when He (the Counselor) comes, He will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (RSV). “And He (the Comforter), when He is come, will convict the world in respect of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (ASV).
We would here draw your attention to the words of the Lord Jesus regarding the Holy Spirit. This is one of the many places where so very much is said in just a few words. “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you” (Jn. 16:7).
The Matter of Expediency. “It is expedient for you.” In other words, it is better for you, it is more advantageous for you, “that I go away.” The expediency was certainly for the Apostles, first of all, as they powerfully proclaimed the Word of God after Christ’s resurrection and ascension. It was more advantageous for them, in a very real sense, that the Savior had gone away into Heaven. For it was then that the Holy Spirit was given in such great measure unto them. They, as it were, stood in the Savior’s stead, empowered from on high, as they went into all the world to preach the gospel.
But the Holy Spirit is given to us, as well, who have received the Savior. As Peter declared on the day of Pentecost, “Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the Name of Jesus Christ, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” And it is more advantageous for us, and for the kingdom of God’s sake, that Christ has ascended up on high, “that He might fill all things” (Eph. 4:10).
A Definite Advantage. Let us ask ourselves if we are able to concur in our hearts with this statement of our Lord. He said that the expediency was for our sakes, and that the advantage, spoken of here, was for our benefit. Are we able to perceive that it is better and more spiritually advantageous, that the Savior has, at least for the time, gone away into Heaven? Is the advantage, of which He was speaking, an integral part of your thought and reasoning processes? Or would you prefer that He would still be with us, as “in the days of His flesh” (Heb. 5:7), and as He was in Galilee? Do you perceive that it has been an advantage to you, personally, that the Savior has gone back into Heaven?
Let us state this yet another way: the Savior has gone away into Heaven and this circumstance has created a singular advantage for those who are living by faith. It is really better for us, it is more spiritually advantageous for us, it is more profitable for us, it is that which gives believing men the “spiritual edge” on things.. “It is to your advantage that I go away” (RSV, NASB, Weymouth). “It is profitable for you that I depart” (Rhm.).
The fact, however, that our Lord prefaced this affirmation with the words “Nevertheless I tell you the truth,” indicates that men will have to look more closely and more carefully to perceive the nature of the advantage and the expediency of which He spoke. In other words, this advantage is not apparent to the carnal mind. It is imperceptible to those who are not walking in the Spirit. But it is definitely recognizable to all those who are living by faith!
“If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you” (Jn. 16:7). This is a point that the Lord Jesus makes more than once in this discourse. It seems that the Savior is saying here that only one Member of the Godhead can be on earth at a time for an extended duration, being made subject to the rejection, indifference, and callousness of men. The Comforter could not come to effectually reside in men until the Savior was enthroned at the right hand of the Father, after having put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. We would draw your attention to the fact that the Lord emphatically declares that the Comforter would not come, unless He went away! The Holy Spirit is a subservient Member of the Godhead: He does not act independently. From what we know of Him in Scripture, He has no self-interest, other than the interests of the Father and the Son.
The Holy Spirit, the Comforter. We will probably make this point more than once, but the Holy Spirit is called “the Comforter,” because He has been appointed to console believing men and women in the absence of the Savior. The Comforter was going to come because the Savior was going away. Jesus called Him “another Comforter,” implying that He Himself was also a Comforter, while He was here in this world. The Comforter has not been dispatched merely to help religious men hobble through life’s troubles; He has been sent to comfort believing men and women while the Lord Jesus Christ is gone away into Heaven. The entrance of sin into the world has made for a situation where comfort and everlasting consolation have become a fundamental necessity for those who, through the grace of God, have recovered themselves from the snare of the Devil.
Consider the Savior’s words found in Luke’s gospel. “And He said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it” (Lk. 17:22). “One of the days,” meaning days like those prior to His resurrection and ascension into Heaven. These were days like the days of His flesh, as the writer of Hebrews expressed it.
Now that the Savior has gone away, redeemed men and women stand greatly in need of divine comfort. Do you feel the dire need for consolation in the time of the Savior’s absence? Not merely because you have been called upon to taste of a portion of earth’s troubles and woes, but rather consolation because our Lord Jesus Christ, for the time appointed by the Father, has gone away into Heaven!
The Ministry of Comfort and Reproof. This almost sounds contradictory at first consideration. When the Comforter is come, He will reprove. The same Spirit who is the Comforter is also the divinely appointed Reprover. The One who ministers everlasting consolations to men is also the one ministers great reproofs and conviction to men. On the individual level, before He was the Comforter to men, He was the great Reprover. He constantly strove, and yet strives with men (cf. Gen. 6:3). He comforts where He has previously reproved, and He reproves with the intent of eventually comforting men, who have not yet believed, but who shall believe unto life everlasting. Even in believing men and women, the Holy Spirit continues to effectually reprove and comfort those whom He indwells. “Do ye think that the Scripture saith in vain, The Spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?” (Jas. 4:5). The Holy Spirit is exceeding jealous for complete heart’s affection.
When the Comforter is come, He will reprove. The greater part of the reproving and convicting done by Him is done through the words of Scripture and the holy manner of living of those in whom He indwells. Search and see, but there are no records in Scripture of the Holy Spirit convicting anyone of sin apart from the Word of God, and especially apart from the preaching of the gospel. There are no chapters in the book of Acts devoted to the Holy Spirit convicting men of sin independent of the lives of men and women indwelt by Him.
Even the great awakenings and revivals in history were sparked either by some who were intently considering the Word of God, and by men and women who were living and walking in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit does not “swoop down” from Heaven to bring salvation to men independent of the involvement of believing men and women in whom He indwells. We are workers together with Him! Our purpose here is certainly not to limit the “gifts,” “administrations,” and “operations” of the Godhead (cf. I Cor. 12:2-4), but rather to declare some of His ways (Ps. 103:7), as they are revealed in Scripture.
When the Comforter comes, He will reprove. He will convict, He will work conviction in men’s hearts. In creation the Holy Spirit moved upon the face of the waters (Gen 1:2), but now He moves upon the field of men’s hearts. The Holy Spirit does not reprove birds and oxen and fish and trees. He works conviction in the hearts of those who are created in God’s image. He says to them, as it were, “Return, ye children of men” (Ps. 90:3).
The Ministry of Comforting and Reproving. Unto those who have obeyed the gospel and who are living by faith, the Holy Spirit is the Comforter. His primary ministry to them is one of comfort and consolation. He comforts by counseling them in the truth. He is “the Spirit of truth” (cf. Jn. 14:17; 15:26; 16:13). He comforts by bringing the truth to bear upon men’s hearts and minds in all of life’s woes and adversities. He does not comfort by mysteriously imparting good feelings to men. He consoles the heart by making the understanding fruitful. Where truth is known and understood clearly by men and where there is agreement with it, there the Holy Spirit will comfort. Where men are conversant with the truth and with the powers of the world to come, there are great consolations!
The Holy Spirit, a Reprover. To all who are yet unreconciled to God, the Holy Spirit is a faithful Reprover. He is a convicter. His ministry to such ones is to make them feel inwardly uncomfortable so long as they are at a distance from the Savior. He says, in effect, to unreconciled men, “You’re in the wrong -- Your thoughts are wrong, your actions are wrong, your living is wrong.”
If men are yet dwelling at a distance from God (to whatever degree), the Holy Spirit will reprove them. Wherever men and women are unbelieving, the Holy Spirit will convict them. Where men are drifting away from the Savior, the Holy Spirit will not give them rest, at least unto a certain point. For God has said, “My Spirit shall not always strive with men” (Gen. 6:3).
The Holy Spirit will continue to reprove and convict men so long as He is not resisted and quenched. So long as unbelieving men remain within earshot of the Word of God, the Holy Spirit will be to them a reprover. He will give them no rest, nor will He permit them to remain at ease in their sin and unbelief. Wherever men’s consciences have not been “seared with a hot iron” (I Tim. 4:2), the Holy Spirit will continue to convict them of sin, and of righteousness and of judgment.