Dear radio friends,
Today the church of Jesus Christ celebrates one of the greatest blessings that she has received: the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Today is Pentecost Sunday. Fifty days after the Lord Jesus Christ arose from the dead, and ten days after He ascended up into heaven to His Father’s right hand, Jesus Christ, as He had promised, poured forth His Spirit upon the church on the day of Pentecost.
When He ascended up into heaven, Jesus said to His disciples, Acts 1:4, 5: “Wait for the promise of the Father which ye have heard of me. Ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” When the disciples had earlier perceived that He was going to go away, Jesus steadied their trembling hearts with these words in John 14:16, 17: “And I will pray the Father and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth.” And so it was as we read in Acts 2 that, “when the day of Pentecost was fully come” the Holy Spirit of Christ was poured out as a lasting blessing upon the church of Jesus Christ.
This is a great blessing. It was for the Holy Spirit that all else was. The work of Jesus Christ in being born in Bethlehem, suffering and dying upon Calvary’s cross, rising again the third day and ascending up into heaven — all this precious work of Jesus Christ was exactly for the Holy Spirit. That is, Jesus accomplished salvation in order that the Holy Spirit might take that salvation and be poured out into our hearts so that we possess Christ Himself, the Savior.
Still more. This is so important because, without the Holy Spirit being poured out, there could be no church. The Lord Jesus Christ referred to the Holy Spirit as the “Spirit of truth” whom He would send. The Holy Spirit is the One who guides the church. The Holy Spirit is the One who is the author of faith. He is the One who opens the heart. The sinner does not open his own heart, just as a dead man cannot open his casket. It is the Holy Spirit who opens the hearts of dead sinners and brings the Word of God and works in them by a heavenly power the gift of faith. It is the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us, who keeps us from temptation, who reminds us of the words of Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts us. It is the Holy Spirit who defends us. Without the Holy Spirit there would be no church, there would be no disciples, there would be no believers. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the great gift of Jesus Christ.
We want to approach the truth of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit from the point of view, then, of our personal need of the presence of the Holy Spirit. We take our passage today from the prayer of David in Psalm 51. This psalm is one of the psalms that David wrote after his repentance and confession of his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband Uriah. It is a psalm of repentance. In that psalm, David prays in verses 11 and 12, “Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.”
Now, from David’s prayer, we may draw a beautiful understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit. David prays, “Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.” This verse of Holy Scripture is cast in the form of what is called Hebrew parallelism. The verse is composed of two clauses that shed light upon each other and interpret each other and thus express one thought. So, when David says, “Cast me not away from thy presence; take not thy holy spirit from me,” we may gather that the presence of God and the gift of the Holy Spirit are synonymous. Or we may put it this way: The work of the Holy Spirit is to bring to us the experience of God’s presence in Jesus Christ. From the passage, we are given a beautiful understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is to bring into the life of the child of God the felt presence of God through Jesus Christ. And with it, the joy of salvation that God gives in Jesus Christ. That is His work.
Today, more and more, the work of the Holy Spirit that is being clamored for is an outward and dramatic and ultimately useless display of human miracles. But that is not the work of the Holy Spirit. The work of the Holy Spirit is not the power to heal or the power to work miracles. Those are puny things compared to this: to bring the presence of God into our souls; to create, by grace, an intimate and personal sense of God being with me in mercy and truth so that we are filled with a reverence over His majesty, and our heart is satisfied with the fullness of His love and salvation, and we are led to live a holy life. That is the work of the Holy Spirit.
By the presence of God, David means the experience of God’s favor. It was exactly the experience of God’s favor that David had forfeited when he fell deliberately into his own sin. It was while he continued in that sin that he was robbed, in God’s justice, of the experience of God’s love and favor upon him. By the “presence” of God, David means that he would be restored by the Holy Spirit, in the way of repentance, to the experience of the favor and love of God. That is the work of the Spirit. Through repentance, through the conviction of our sin, and through the bringing to our hearts of the truth of the Scriptures that by grace God has given Christ to take away our sin, the Holy Spirit gives us to know the favor and the love of God.
To be brought into the presence of God and to know God’s favor and love is a wonder of His grace. It is the work of the Holy Spirit Himself, who alone can do that. The Holy Spirit brings to us the assurance of God’s favor and grace in Jesus Christ.
It was for this that David was pleading: “Cast me not,” he says, “away from thy presence; take not thy holy spirit from me.” To be cast away is to be deserted, to be discarded, to be thrown away as of no value. He says, “Take not, remove not from me, the experience of Thy Holy Spirit.” This is, as I said, what David had lost in the way of his sinful rebellion. He had walked in the way of his headstrong sin, out of his own lust in rebellion. He had fallen into the deceit of sin.
Sin conducts false merchandizing, holds out false promises. Satan says to you that those unbelieving friends are so entertaining and educated and stimulating. He says to you that the lust that you contemplate is so satisfying and so gratifying. He says to you that that movie will be entertaining, that that music will do something to you. He says to you that that bed is soft and sleep is so pleasing, why should you go to church? These are the things that he sells. And in our flesh we are strongly tempted. When we fall into that temptation, then in God’s judgment and justice we forfeit the experience of His presence and favor.
It is the work of the Holy Spirit to restore us into the experience of favor. Therefore, the work of the Holy Spirit is the work of humbling, the work of working repentance. That is the great work of the Holy Spirit. He creates in you a sense of your sin and at the same time He opens you to see the full riches of Jesus Christ. Exposing the truth of our sin, He also exposes and brings to our hearts the full and sufficient payment for sin in Jesus Christ. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. In the way of repentance, in the way of the knowledge of sin, sorrow for sin, trust in Christ as the full satisfaction for sin, He restores us to the experience of God’s favor.
And thus He gives us joy. That is the Holy Spirit.
You can understand, then, why David pleaded, “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.” He had lost, as we said, the joy of salvation by his sin. Now he is praying for the faithful work of the Holy Spirit to work in him that repentance and the return to blessing of the presence of God in his life. That is a wonderful work, is it not?
But we should see that it is also the Holy Spirit who is the author of this prayer. He is the author of all things, all good things, in our hearts. He is the author of our prayers. So, do you plead for this? Do you plead that God will give you repentance from your sins? And do you say, “The greatest treasure, the greatest good, that I could ever have is to know the favor and the presence of God”? You see, that is the evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in your heart.
What is the evidence of the Holy Spirit — the evidence of the Holy Spirit being given to you? Is that evidence that you would have the ability to speak in tongues? Is that evidence what is called a second baptism, that you are brought to a certain elitist position as a child of God, that you do not sin anymore? Is that the presence of the Holy Spirit? Then you would know that you have the Holy Spirit — if you do not sin anymore? Is the presence of the Holy Spirit evidenced to you in a mere wave of emotion that sweeps over you?
This is the evidence of the Holy Spirit — that you realize that in grace God has forgiven your sin, has blotted out your transgressions, and has washed you and made you clean. He has given you to understand how vile you are and how wonderful is the grace of God. Then the work of the Holy Spirit is seen in this: that from your heart of hearts you say, “All that matters to me is God and to please Him.”
Does the Holy Spirit dwell in you? I am not asking you merely a superficial question. I am not asking you if you think, “Well, yeah, everything is OK with me. I guess I’m a Christian, even though my heart is in the world.” No, I am asking you this: Do you know sorrow for your sin? Do you desire to be like Christ? Do you joy in the wonder of God’s grace that has been given to you? Do you have the joy of His salvation? That is the evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in you.
When the Holy Spirit has been given to you and you realize yourself as a sinner saved by grace, then you will go on to pray: “And uphold me with thy free spirit,” that is, you will pray for the continual work of the Holy Spirit in your life. David saw that he needed to be upheld, that he needed steadfastness and strength. He saw that because he saw also that, by nature, he would constantly go astray from God. Therefore he pleaded that the Holy Spirit would uphold him. He saw that this was possible only if the Holy Spirit were freely given to him. He confessed that the One who would uphold the child of God and keep the child of God in faith in this present life must be the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit was the free gift of sovereign grace.
God puts His Spirit into us. It is only the Holy Spirit of God who can make us steady, who can uphold us. He makes us willing and ready to go in the way of God’s commandments. So the Christian’s confidence is not in himself. It is in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit that Christ has now given to us.
David prays for the presence and the upholding of the “free spirit” of God. The idea of free spirit is that the Holy Spirit is graciously given. We speak of salvation by the free grace of God, meaning that salvation is not something that we deserve, it is not something that we can earn. It is not even something that we desire. But it is something freely given and worked of God in our hearts. So the Holy Spirit is a free gift of the sovereign grace of God. He is given to those whom God has chosen in Christ. No one desires of himself to have the Holy Spirit. Of ourselves, we are the unholy sons of Adam. We do not desire the Holy Spirit of ourselves to dwell and to live within us. But it is the free gift of God’s grace. Out of a sovereign work, out of a gracious decision of God, God grants to us the Holy Spirit to work in us.
But I believe the idea is more. The idea is not only that the Holy Spirit is graciously and sovereignly given of God. The idea is also this: Uphold me in the freedom of Thy Spirit. That is very beautiful. The idea is, then, that the work of the Holy Spirit is to give us to walk in the liberty that is to be found in Jesus Christ. Very briefly, that tells us that the way of sin is not liberty but tyranny. The way of sin is not freedom but bondage. The way of sin is not enjoyment but utter ruin and sorrow. Christ alone is the One who can give freedom, the freedom of obedience to God, the liberty of walking in the joy and presence of God. Not the bondage of turning away and dreading the face of God, but the joy of looking up into the face of God and loving Him — that is freedom! That is the work of the Holy Spirit, too. He brings to us salvation. And bringing to us salvation, He liberates us that we might walk in the presence of God.
He is the liberating Spirit. He liberates me through the Word from the terrible condemnation of my own conscience that I have sinned against God. He points me in the Word to Jesus Christ upon the cross as the only and the full payment for my sin. But He does more. He works powerfully in me through His Word, creating within me a new heart and a new desire, so that now I see the deceit, ruin, and folly of sin. Rather, by grace I would desire to walk with God. The Holy Spirit sanctifies me and gives me to walk in the liberty of obedience to Jesus Christ.
And still more. He gives me to be thankful, thankful for the mighty grace of God, thankful to God who is the author of all my spiritual life. The Holy Spirit cuts away the chains of the guilt and bondage of sin. He brings Christ to us. And bringing Christ to us, He brings to us the experience of Father’s presence and favor. Therefore, with the Holy Spirit we are no longer in bondage, but we are in the freedom of Christ.
The great blessing, then, of the church of Jesus Christ is the Holy Spirit. Let us be devoted to His service; let us be attuned to His Word; let us plead, “Gracious Father, give me to walk in the light of Thy Spirit. Work His mighty grace within me. Give me repentance and, through the Holy Spirit, assure me of Thy favor and mercy in Jesus Christ.”
That is the work of the Spirit.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy word. We pray that it may be applied to our hearts today by faith. In Jesus’ name, Amen.