The Necessity of the Work of the Holy Spirit to Man's Salvation by J.C. Ryle
I invite special attention to this part of the subject. Let it be a settled thing in our minds that the matter we are considering in this paper is no mere speculative question in religion, about which it signifies little what we believe. On the contrary, it lies at the very foundation of all saving Christianity. Wrong about the Holy Spirit and His officesâ€”and we are wrong to all eternity!
The necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit arises from the total corruption of human nature. We are all by nature "dead in sins." (Eph. 2:1.) However shrewd, and clever, and wise in the things of this world, we are all dead towards God. The eyes of our understanding are blinded. We see nothing aright. Our wills, affections, and inclinations are alienated from Him who made us. "The carnal mind is enmity against God." (Rom. 8:7.) We have naturally neither faith, nor fear, nor love, nor holiness. In short, left to ourselves, we would never be saved.
Without the Holy Spirit no man ever turns to God, repents, believes, and obeys. Intellectual training and secular education alone make no true Christians. Acquaintance with fine arts and science leads no one to heaven. Pictures and statues never brought one soul to God. The "tender strokes of art" never prepared any man or woman for the judgment day. They bind up no broken heart; they heal no wounded conscience. The Greeks had their Zeuxis and Parrhasius, their Phidias and Praxiteles, masters as great in their day as any in modern times; yet the Greeks knew nothing of the way of peace with God. They were sunk in gross idolatry, and bowed down to the works of their own hands. The most zealous efforts of ministers alone cannot make people Christians. The ablest scriptural reasoning has no effect on the mind; the most fervent pulpit eloquence will not move the heart; the naked truth alone will not lead the will. We who are ministers know this well by painful experience. We can show people the fountain of living watersâ€”but we cannot make them drink. We see many a one sitting under our pulpits year after year, and hearing hundreds of sermons, full of Gospel truth, without the slightest result. We mark him year after year, unaffected and unmoved by every Scriptural argumentâ€”cold as the stones on which he treads as he enters our church, unmoved as the marble statue which adorns the tomb against the wallâ€”dead as the old dry oak of which his pew is made, feelingless as the painted glass in the windows, through which the sun shines on his head. We look at him with wonder and sorrow, and remember Xavier's words as he looked at China, "Oh, rock, rock! when will you open?" And we learn by such cases as these, that nothing will make a Christian but the introduction into the heart of a new nature, a new principle, and a Divine seed from above.
What is it then that man needs? We need to be "born again," and this new birth we must receive of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of life must quicken us. The Spirit must renew us. The Spirit must take away from us the heart of stone. The Spirit must put in us the heart of flesh. A new act of creation must take place. A new being must be called into existence. Without all this we cannot be saved. Here lies the main part of our need of the Holy Spirit. "Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3.) No salvation without a new birth!
"This is that which gives unto the ministry of the Gospel both its glory and its efficacy. Take away the Spirit from the Gospel, and you render it a dead letter, and leave the New Testament of no more use unto Christians than the Old Testament is unto the Jews."â€”Owen on the Holy Spirit.
"In the power of the Holy Spirit rests all ability to know God and to please Him. It is He who purifies the mind by His secret working. He enlightens the mind to conceive worthy thoughts of Almighty God."â€”Homily
Let us dismiss from our minds forever the common idea that natural theology, moral persuasion, logical arguments, or even an exhibition of Gospel truth, are sufficient of themselves to turn a sinner from his sins, if once brought to bear upon him. It is a strong delusion. They will not do so. The heart of man is far harder than we fancyâ€”the 'old Adam' is much more strong than we suppose. The ships which run aground at half-ebb, will never stir until the tide flowsâ€”the heart of man will never look to Christ, repent, and believe, until the Holy Spirit comes down upon it. Until that takes place, our inner nature is like the earth before the present order of creation began, "without form and void, and darkness covering the face of the deep." (Gen. 1:2.) The same power which said at the beginning, "Let there be lightâ€”and there was light," must work a creating work in us, or we shall never rise to newness of life.
But I have something more to say yet on this branch of my subject. The necessity of the work of the Spirit to man's salvation is a wide field, and I have yet another remark to make upon it.
I say then, that without the work of the Holy Spirit no man could ever be fit to dwell with God in another world. A fitness of some kind we must have. The mere pardon of our sins would be a worthless gift, unless accompanied by the gift of a new nature, a nature in harmony and in tune with that of God Himself. We need a fitness for heaven, as well as a title for heaven, and this fitness we must receive from the Holy Spirit. We must be made "partakers of the divine nature," by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. (2 Pet. 1:4.) The Spirit must sanctify our carnal natures, and make them love spiritual things. The Spirit must wean our affections from things below, and teach us to set them on things above. The Spirit must bend our stubborn wills, and teach them to be submissive to the will of God. The Spirit must write again the law of God on our inward man, and put His fear within us. The Spirit must transform us by the daily renewing of our minds, and implant in us the image of Him whose servants we profess to be. Here lies the other great part of our need of the Holy Spirit's work. We need sanctification no less than justification, "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." (Heb. 12:14.)
Once more I beseech my readers to dismiss from their minds the common idea, that men and women need nothing but pardon and absolution, in order to be prepared to meet God. It is a strong delusion, and one against which I desire with all my heart to place you on your guard. It is not enough, as many a poor ignorant Christian supposes on his death-bed, if God "pardons our sins and takes us to rest." I say again most emphatically, it is not enough. The love of sin must be taken from us, as well as the guilt of sin removed; the desire of pleasing God must be implanted in us, as well as the fear of God's judgment taken away; a love to holiness must be engrafted, as well as a dread of punishment removed. Heaven itself would be no heaven to us if we entered it without a new heart.
An eternal Sabbath and the society of saints and angels could give us no happiness in heaven, unless the love of Sabbaths and of holy company had been first shed abroad in our hearts upon earth. Whether people will hear or forbear, the man who enters heaven must have the sanctification of the Spirit, as well as the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ. To use the words of Owen, "When God designed the great and glorious work of recovering fallen man and saving sinners, He appointed in His infinite wisdom two great means. The one was the giving of His Son for them; and the other was the giving of his Spirit unto them. And hereby was way made for the manifestation of the glory of the whole blessed Trinity."
"God the Father had but two grand gifts to bestow; and when once they were given, He had left then nothing that was great (comparatively) to give, for they contained all good in them. These two gifts were His Son, who was His promise in the Old Testament, and the Spirit, the promise of the New."â€”Thomas Goodwin on the Work of the Holy Spirit. 1704.
I trust I have said enough to show the absolute necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit to the salvation of man's soul. Man's utter inability to turn to God without the Spiritâ€”man's utter unfitness for the joys of heaven, without the Spiritâ€”are two great foundation stones in revealed religion, which ought to be always deeply rooted in a Christian's mind. Rightly understood, they will lead to one conclusion, "Without the Spirit, no salvation!"
Would you like to know the reason why we who preach the Gospel, preach so often about conversion? We do it because of the necessities of men's souls. We do it because we see plainly from the Word of God that nothing short of a thorough change of heart will ever meet the exigencies of your case. Your case is naturally desperate. Your danger is great. You need not only the atonement of Jesus Christâ€”but the quickening, sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, to make you a true Christian, and deliver you from hell. Gladly would I lead to heaven all who read this volume! My heart's desire and prayer to God is that you may be saved. But I know that none enter heaven without a heart to enjoy heaven, and this heart we must receive from God's Spirit.
Shall I tell you plainly the reason why some receive these truths so coldly, and are so little affected by them? You hear us listless and unconcerned. You think us extreme and extravagant in our statements. And why is this? It is just because you do not see or know the disease of your own soul. You are not aware of your own sinfulness and weakness. Low and inadequate views of your spiritual disease, are sure to be accompanied by low and inadequate views of the remedy provided in the Gospel. What shall I say to you? I can only say, "May the Lord awaken you! May the Lord have mercy on your soul!" The day may come when the scales will fall from your eyes, when old things will pass away, and all things become new. And in that day I foretell and forewarn you confidently that the first truth you will grasp, next to the work of Christ, will be the absolute necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit.