The operation of the Holy Spirit is necessary on at least two counts in gospel work: His Work in the Servant, and His Work in the Sinner. “It is the spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing” (John 6:63), is a statement that is unequivocal. If sinners, “dead in trespasses and in sins,” are to be born from above and become instant possessors of eternal life, it will be the Spirit’s peculiar work from beginning to end. A life lifted up from serving self and sin to becoming a servant of God, is something that the flesh could never produce, though it might try to imitate it. The Spirit’s sphere of operation is in both speaker and hearer, which we will now consider in turn.
The Servant will require help “from above,” for the One that he presents in the gospel is “He that cometh from above” (John 3:31). The Lord Jesus Christ is the subject of the message. We can trace the Holy Spirit’s work in relation to the Lord Jesus in His birth (Luke 1:35), His life (John 3:34), His baptism (Luke 3:22), His death (Heb 9:14), and His resurrection (1 Pet 3:18). Then upon His ascension, He sent forth the Holy Spirit to bear witness of Him (John 16:7). In the Lord’s absence, the work of the Spirit is to “convince the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment” (16:8). So the servant can be assured of the interest of the Holy Spirit in making known the gospel. Indeed, he must be cast upon God for the Spirit to do His amazing work. In fellowship with the Spirit, he will declare the seriousness of sin, the inflexible standard of God’s righteousness, and the inevitability of judgment upon sin. This warning side of the gospel is essential, but is becoming increasingly unpopular in many places. Then, with joy, he must “preach Christ and Him crucified.” In this also he can depend upon the interest and enablement of the Spirit of God. He will “bear witness of Him” who alone can meet the sinner’s need, by His all sufficient sacrifice for sin upon the cross.
In giving the great commission to His own, the Lord said, “all power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth, go ye therefore…” (Matt 28:18). This power is from above. Something of this power can be available to every herald of the cross endeavoring to fulfill the commission. As Paul moved into Thessalonica, he preached, “not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance” (1 Thess 1:5). Although we live in a day of small things, yet is it not to our shame that often we seem to preach with words only? We have so much preaching and at times so little evidence of blessing. At other times many professions of faith are made, but after a while, maybe there is little reality. May we never cover for lack of genuine power, by talking souls into making a profession. The resultant harm to souls and testimony is incalculable. Let us earnestly pray for the manifestation of true spiritual power in our preaching, for Spirit wrought conviction, for repentance and true conversion to God, by those to whom we speak. Nothing else will stand the test of time, never mind eternity.
Spiritual wisdom is essential for all who would seek to win the lost. We need wisdom to be faithful while avoiding being unnecessarily offensive. This is not restricted to “preachers” but applies to all believers who should seek to communicate truth to the dying world of men and women. The character of this wisdom is described in James 3:17, “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without variance, without hypocrisy” (NAS). These features must be evident in one’s life to convincingly communicate the gospel to the lost. It is interesting to see that when God would build testimony to His Name in the wilderness, Bezaleel was “called by name” to the work (Ex 31:2). He was also equipped spiritually: “and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship” (Ex 31:3). So God can select His workers and fit them with spiritual wisdom for the task he entrusts to them. However, we may wrongly put mere natural wisdom on display when speaking in the gospel. The use of smart “one liners,” “tear jerkers,” or hair-raising stories, may entertain the audience, but will accomplish little for God. Our Lord’s preaching was interesting and full of illustration, but never became mere entertainment, nor was it marred by hyped up excitement, exhibitionism, or emotionalism. We must speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15).
The Holy Spirit must also work in the experience of the sinner hearing the gospel, if it is to result in salvation. A principle is implicit in 1 Corinthians 2:11: “Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.” This statement is made in the context of truth being revealed by God to men. If the reality of man’s deprayed condition before God is to be known in the heart in true conviction, the Spirit of God Himself must be at work. That pre-conversion work of the Spirit in a person’s experience is spoken of as “sanctification of the Spirit” (1 Thess 2:13). As the Word of God is spoken and falls on the ears of the sinner, the truths the words convey are carried home in reality to the heart by the Spirit of God. Convinced of truth, faith is born in the heart: “faith by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:17). His work of regeneration is a real work of delivering souls into the blessings of the new creation. This should be a work of God alone. “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). Sinners are dead in trespasses and in sins, but upon believing they are indwelt by that Divine Person, the Spirit of the Living God. Instantly they are “born again” or “born from above” into the family of God. Fphesians 1:13 bears this out; “In whom, having also believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.” We become the immediate possessors of eternal life and are made a new creation in Christ. “Behold all things are become new” (2 Cor 5:17).
The tragedy of Israel’s stubbornness was presented to them by Stephen, “Ye do always resist the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51). They displayed the natural antagonism of the human heart, and betrayed and slew the Just One. Such insulting behavior toward the Lord and the Spirit of God, closed the door of mercy in their own faces. As a result, Israel nationally has suffered long, being set aside until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in” (Rom 11:25). The writer to the Hebrews also speaks to the individual, “of how much worse punishment, shall he be judged worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, … and has insulted the Spirit of Grace” (Heb.10:29 JND). What a great responsibility is placed at the door of those who hear the gospel! How solemn to refuse the Savior! “There remains no more sacrifice for sins, but a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries (Heb 10:27).
In view of the seriousness of sin and inevitable judgment as a result, may each of us urgently join with the Holy Spirit to reach the whosoever that will “come … and take of the water of life freely” (Rev 22:17).