Justification and the Holy Spirit
Editorial Note: This article is from a book entitled The Blood of Jesus, written in 1881 by the Rev. William Reid of Edinburgh.
A certain emphasis on the Holy Spirit's work does not enhance the gospel of Christ but detracts from it. It fails to correctly relate the Holy Spirit's work to the saving work of Jesus Christ. Much mischief is done when the Spirit's work is confused with or placed in the room of the substitutionary work of Christ. This confusion makes an antichrist out of what is thought to be the Spirit.
William Reid writes with great simplicity yet with careful thought. We trust that his testimony will challenge us to be more biblical and true to the gospel in relating to the work of the Son and the work of the Spirit.
We sometimes hear "the claims of Jesus" pressed upon sinners; but this is to confound Christ with Moses, and represent His salvation as only an amended republication of the law "given by Moses," forgetting that "grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (John i. 17). "The gospel, strictly taken, contains neither 'claims,' commands, nor threatenings, but is glad tidings of salvation to sinful men through Christ, revealed in doctrines and promises; and these revealed to men as sinners, stout-hearted, and far from righteousness. In the good news from heaven of help in God through Jesus Christ, for lost, self-destroyed creatures of Adam's race, there are no precepts. The gospel is the good news of salvation for lost sinners through the sacrifice of Christ.1 The gospel is the report of a peace made by the BLOOD OF CHRIST for poor sinners, and offered to them.2 The gospel brings a sound of liberty to captives, of pardon to condemned criminals, of peace to rebels, a sound of life to the dead, and of salvation to them that lie on the borders of hell and condemnation.3 It is not, indeed, the gospel of itself, but Christ revealed therein, that heals the sinner. It is Christ that is to be received, but He is received as offered in the gospel, and the gospel holds out Christ to the eye of faith. The gospel is with respect to Christ what the pole was with respect to the serpent."4
The gospel does not therefore urge upon us claims which we cannot fulfil, but it places before us the free grace of God in Christ Jesus, and permits us to claim the Son of God as our Redeemer, and through Him to enjoy "all things" pertaining to the life of faith and the hope of glory. We are asked to give God nothing for salvation. He is the great Giver. Our proper position is to stand before Him as beggars in the attitude of receiving. "He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Rom. viii. 32.)
The gospel of the grace of God does not consist in pressing the duty defined by the words, "Give your heart to Christ," although that is often unwisely pressed upon inquirers after salvation as if it were the gospel; but the very essence of the gospel is contained in the words, "Having liberty to enter into the holiest BY THE BLOOD OF JESUS, by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; and having an high-priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith" (Heb. x. 19-22).
"Give your heart to Christ," is rather law than gospel. It is most proper that it should be done, for God Himself demands it; but merely urging the doing of it is far short of the gospel. The true gospel is, Accept the free gift of salvation from wrath and sin by receiving the Lord Jesus Himself, and all the benefits He purchased with His OWN BLOOD, and your heart will be His in a moment, being given to Him, not as a matter of law, but of love; for if you have the love of His heart poured into yours by His blessed Spirit, you will feel yourself under the constraining influence of a spontaneous spiritual impulse to give Him in return your heart, and all that you possess. It is right to give Him your heart, but unless you first receive the open proof of having His, you will never give Him yours.
The design of the following pages is to exhibit "the true grace of God" "without the works of the law," and only "by THE BLOOD OF JESUS" (Heb. x. 19). Our great aim is the glory of Christ in the conversion of souls; and the means employed to accomplish that end are simple statements concerning the great Scripture truth, that we are saved at once, entirely, and for ever, by the grace of God "who is rich in mercy," and that we have no part at all in the matter of our salvation save the beggar's part, of accepting it as a "free gift," procured for us by "THE PRECIOUS BLOOD OF CHRIST" (1 Pet. i. 19). And, as many are struggling to get up something of their own as a price to bring to God to buy salvation of Him, we have taken pains to show the entire uselessness of all such efforts; and have pointed out, we think, with some degree of clearness, and by a variety of ways, that all true religion has a distinct beginning, and that that beginning dates from the time when a sinner, conscious of his utterly ruined condition, believes in his heart that Jesus so completely satisfied God for sin, that He could say before He gave up the ghost, "It is finished" (John xix. 30); 50 that "we have redemption through His BLOOD, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace" (Eph. i. 7). "He His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree" (1 Pet. ii. 24), and thereby, God "having made peace by THE BLOOD OF His CROSS" (Col. i. 20), we may at once be "made nigh by THE BLOOD OF CHRIST" (Eph. ii. 13), without anything of our own. That God who hath set Him forth, "a propitiation through faith in His BLOOD, to declare His righteousness" (Rom. iii. 25) in pardoning sin, will pardon ALL sin through faith in Him, for His own testimony is, that "THE BLOOD OF JESUS CHRIST His Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John i. 7).
"THE BLOOD OF JESUS" is the ground of peace with God to every believing sinner below, and it will be the subject of the everlasting song of the redeemed above. It is our ALL for acceptance with God, for pardon of sin, for "justification of life," for adoption into God's family, for holiness and glory. As the altar with its streaming blood stood at the very entrance of the ancient tabernacle, so the Lord Jesus Christ and THE BLOOD OF His CROSS meet us at the very entrance of the Church of the redeemed. The blood shedding of Jesus as "a propitiation for our sins" (1 John ii. 2) lies at the very threshold of the Christian life. It is the alphabet of Christian experience to know the value of "THE BLOOD OF SPRINKLING" (Heb. xii. 24). The first step in the Christian course is to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved (Acts xvi. 31).
"THE BLOOD OF JESUS" is our great and only theme in the following pages. May the Divine Spirit make the truth this book contains "the power of God unto salvation" (Rom. i. 16) to every reader. . . .
The Blood of Jesus, Not Conviction of Sin, the Foundation of Our Peace and Joy
If the Holy Ghost be awakening you to a true apprehension of your danger as a rebel against God's authority,—a guilty, polluted, hell-deserving sinner,—you must be in a deeply anxious state of mind, and such questions as these must be ever present with you:—"What must I do to be saved? What is the true ground of a sinner's peace with God? What am I to believe in order to be saved?" Well, in so far as laying the foundation of your reconciliation is concerned—I wish you to observe that you have nothing to do; for Christ who died for sinners said on Calvary, "It is finished" (John xix. 30). Jesus has done all that the Righteous God deemed necessary to be done to insure immediate pardon, acceptance, and salvation to all who believe on His name. If you take Jesus Christ as your Saviour, you will build securely for eternity. "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. iii. 11). He is the foundation-stone of salvation laid by God Himself, and on His finished atoning work alone you are instructed to rest the salvation of your soul, and not on anything accomplished by you, wrought in you, felt by you, or proceeding from you. It is of the last importance to be clear as to the fact that it is the work of Christ without (outside of) you, and not the work of the Spirit within you, that must form the sole ground of your deliverance from guilt and wrath, and of peace with God. You must beware of resting your peace on your feelings, convictions, tears, repentance, prayers, duties, or resolutions. You must begin with receiving Christ, and not make that the termination of a course of fancied preparation. Christ is the Alpha and Omega. He must be EVERYTHING in our salvation, or He will be nothing. Beware lest you fall into the common mistake of supposing that you will be more welcome to accept of Christ that you are brought through a terrible process of "law-work." You are as welcome to Christ now as you will ever be. Wait not for deeper convictions of sin, for why should you prefer conviction to Christ? And you would not have one iota more safety although you had deeper convictions of sin than any sinner ever had. "Convictions of sin are precious; but they bring no safety, no peace, no salvation, no security, but war, and storm, and trouble. It is well to be awakened from sleep when danger is hanging over us; but to awake from sleep is not to escape from danger. It is only to be sensible of danger, nothing more. In like manner, to be convinced of your sins is merely to be made sensible that your soul is in danger. It is no more. It is not deliverance. Of itself, it can bring no deliverance; it tells of no Saviour. It merely tells us that we need one. Yet there are many who, when they have had deep convictions of sin, strong terrors of the law, congratulate themselves as if all were well. They say, 'Ah, I have been convinced of sin; I have been under terrors; it is well with me; I am safe.' Well with you? Safe? Is it well with the seaman when he awakes and finds his vessel going to pieces upon the rocks amid the fury of the whelming surge? Is it well with the sleeper when he awakes at midnight amid the flames of his dwelling? Does he say, 'Ah, it is well with me; I have seen the flames'? In this way sinners are not unfrequently led to be content with some resting-place short of the appointed one. Anxiety to have deep convictions, and contentment with them after they have been experienced, are too often the means which Satan uses for turning away the sinner's eye from the perfect work of Jesus, who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree. Our peace with God, our forgiveness, our reconciliation, flow wholly from the sin-atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Behold, then, O Spirit-convinced soul, the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world! In His death upon the cross, behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world! In His death upon the cross, behold the mighty sacrifice, the ransom for the sins of many! See there the sum of all His obedience and sufferings! Behold the finished work!—a work of stupendous magnitude, which He alone could have undertaken and accomplished! Behold our sacrifice, our finished sacrifice, our perfected redemption, the sole foundation of our peace, and hope, and joy. 'He His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree' (1 Pet. ii. 24). It is not said that our duties, or our prayers, or our fastings, or our convictions of sin, or our repentance, or our honest life, or our almsdeeds, or our faith, or our grace—it is not said that these bore our sins; it was Jesus, Jesus Himself, Jesus alone, Jesus, and none but Jesus, 'bore our sins in His own body on the tree.' Rest, then, in nothing short of peace with God through our. Lord Jesus Christ."
"Christ has done the mighty work;
Nothing left for us to do,
But to enter on His toil,
Enter on His triumph too."
"His the labour, ours the rest;
His the death and ours the life,
Ours the fruits of victory,
His the agony and strife."
The Blood of Jesus Our Only Ground of Peace with God
When you, who are anxious about your soul, are hearing much prayer offered by Christians for the forth-putting of the power of the Holy Spirit, you may conclude that the first thing you also have to do is to pray for the grace of the Holy Spirit; but Jesus Himself sets you right in this matter when He says, "This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent" (John vi. 29). If you desire to do this at "the throne of grace," by all means repair thither, but do not go to it to do anything else at present. Believers in Jesus pray "in the Holy Ghost" (Jude 20) that He may revive the work of God in themselves and in their fellow believers,—lead awakened souls to Christ,—and convince sinners of their wickedness and unbelief; but as your only foundation for peace, pardon, purity, and glory, is to be found in the blood-shedding of the Lord Jesus, your more immediate occupation is to "behold the Lamb of God" (John i. 29). No doubt, the quickening grace and presence of the Holy Spirit is most essential to your seeing the Lord Jesus to the saving of your soul, and you should by all means recognise His gracious presence as you contemplate the crucified Redeemer; but it is unscriptural to seek the sanctification of your heart through the Spirit before the justification of your person through Christ; and it is equally unscriptural to mix the two, and depend partly on the one and partly on the other; for the Lord Jesus, and "Jesus only, "is the object on which your anxious eyes must rest for peace with God and a change of heart. "It is Christ that died" (Rom. viii. 34); and the Spirit's office is to direct you to Him who said on Calvary, "It is finished" (John xix. 30). It is nowhere written in Scripture, The work of GOD'S Holy Spirit cleanseth us from sin; but it is written that "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John i. 7). What you are called upon, then, more especially to do, is to receive Jesus as your Redeemer, that you may "HAVE REDEMPTION THROUGH His BLOOD, THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS, ACCORDING TO THE RICHES OF His GRACE" (Eph. i. 7); for it is written, "As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the children of God, even to them that believe on His name (John i. 12). We are not required to be prepared as children, and then come and be accepted of God, be justified, and have our sins pardoned through Christ; but we are instructed to come to the Lord Jesus in order to our being justified freely by His grace, and made sons by faith on Him who is the eternal Son of God. We are justified freely as sinners, and being thus accepted in the Beloved, we become children of God, and have the nature, experience, and walk of His children.
Awakened sinner! begin at the beginning of the alphabet of salvation, by looking upon Him who was pierced on Calvary's cross for our sins—look to the Lamb of God, and keep continually looking unto Jesus, and not at your repentings, resolutions, reformations, praying, reading, hearing, or anything of yours as forming any reason why you should be accepted, pardoned, and saved—and you will soon find peace and take your place among them that "worship by the Spirit of God, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh" (Phil. iii. 3).
I do not know a more striking illustration of safety by the blood of Jesus alone, than that which is furnished by the sprinkling of the blood of the passover lamb on the homes of the Israelites, on the eve of their redemption from the bondage of Egypt. "The blood on the lintel secured Israel's safety." There was nothing more required in order to enjoy settled peace, in reference to the destroying angel, than the application of "the blood of sprinkling." God did not add anything to the blood, because nothing more was necessary to secure immunity from the sword of judgment. He did not say, "When I see the blood and the unleavened bread or bitter herbs, I will pass over." By no means. These things had their proper place, and their proper value; but they never could be regarded as the ground of peace in the presence of God.
It is most needful to be simple and clear as to what it is which constitutes the groundwork of peace. So many things are mixed up with the work of Christ, that souls are plunged in darkness and uncertainty as to their acceptance. They know that there is no other way of being saved but by the blood of Christ; but the devils know this, and it avails them nought. What is needed is to know that we are saved—absolutely, perfectly, eternally saved. There is no such thing as being partly saved and partly lost; partly justified and partly guilty; partly alive and partly dead; partly born of God and partly not. There are but the two states, and we must be in either the one or the other.
The Israelite was not partly sheltered by the blood, and partly exposed to the sword of the destroyer. He knew he was safe. He did not hope so. He was not praying to be so. He was perfectly safe. And why? Because God had said, 'When I see the blood, I will pass over you' (Exod. xii. 13). He simply rested upon God's testimony about the shed blood. He set to his seal that God was true. He believed that God meant what He said, and that gave him peace. He was able to take his place at the paschal-feast, in confidence, quietness, and assurance, knowing that the destroyer could not touch him, when a spotless victim had died in his stead.
If an Israelite had been asked as to his enjoyment of peace, what would he have said? Would he have said, 'I know there is no other way of escape but by the blood of the lamb; and I know that that is a divinely perfect way; and, moreover, I know that that blood has been shed and sprinkled on my door-post; but somehow, I do not feel quite comfortable. I am not quite sure if I am safe. I fear I do not value the blood as I ought, nor love the God of my fathers as I ought'? Would such have been his answer? Assuredly not. And yet hundreds of professing Christians speak thus when asked if they have peace. They put their thoughts about the blood in place of the blood itself, and thus, in result, make salvation as much dependent upon themselves as if they were to be saved by works.
Now, the Israelite was secured by the blood alone, and not by his thoughts about it. His thoughts might be deep or they might be shallow; but, deep or shallow, they had nothing to do with his safety. He was not saved by his thoughts or feelings, but by the blood. God did not say, 'When you see the blood, I will pass over you. No; but 'when I see it.' What gave an Israelite peace was the fact that Jehovah's eye rested on the blood. This tranquillised his heart. The blood was outside, and the Israelite inside, so that he could not possibly see it; but God saw it, and that was quite enough.
The application of this to the question of a sinner's peace is very plain. Christ, having shed His blood as a perfect atonement for sin, has taken it into the presence of God and sprinkled it there; and God's testimony assures the believer that everything is settled on his behalf. All the claims of justice have been fully answered, sin has been perfectly atoned for, so that the full tide of redeeming love may roll down from the heart of God, along the channel which the sacrifice of Christ has opened for it.
To this truth the Holy Ghost bears witness. He ever sets forth the fact of God's estimate of the blood of Christ. He points the sinner's eye to the accomplished work of the cross. He declares that all is done; that sin has been dealt with, and righteousness brought nigh—so nigh, that it is 'to all them that believe (Rom. iii. 22). Believe what? Believe what God says; because He says it, not because they feel it.
Now, we are constantly prone to look at something in ourselves as necessary to form the ground of peace. We are apt to regard the work of the Spirit in us rather than the work of Christ for us, as the foundation of our peace. This is a mistake. We know that the operations of the Spirit of God have their proper place in Christianity; but His work is never set forth as that on which our peace depends. The Holy Ghost did not make peace; but Christ did: the Holy Ghost is not said to be our peace; but Christ is. God did not send 'preaching peace' by the Holy Ghost, but 'by Jesus Christ' (comp. Acts x. 36; Eph. ii. 14, 17; Col. i. 20).
The Holy Ghost reveals Christ; He makes us to know, enjoy, and feed upon Christ. He bears witness to Christ; takes of the things of Christ, and shows them unto us. He is the power of communion, the seal, the witness, the earnest, the unction. In short, His operations are essential. Without Him, we can neither see, hear, know, feel, experience, enjoy, nor exhibit aught of Christ. This is plain, and is understood and admitted by every true and rightly-instructed Christian.
Yet, notwithstanding all this, the work of the Spirit is not the ground of peace, though He enables us to enjoy the peace. He is not our title, —though He reveals our title, and enables us to enjoy it. The Holy Ghost is still carrying on His work in the soul of the believer. He 'maketh intercession with groanings which cannot be uttered' (Rom. viii. 26). He labours to bring us into more entire conformity to the Lord Jesus Christ. His aim is 'to present every man perfect in Christ' (Col. i. 28). He is the author of every right desire, every holy aspiration, every pure and heavenly affection, every Divine experience; but His work in and with us will not be complete until we have left this present scene, and taken our place with Christ in the glory. Just as, in the case of Abraham's servant, his work was not complete until he presented Rebekah to Isaac.
Not so the work of Christ for us; that is absolutely and eternally complete. He could say, 'I have finished the work which Thou gavest me to do' (John xvii. 4); and, again, 'IT IS FINISHED' (John xix. 30). The blessed Spirit cannot yet say He has finished the work. He has been patiently and faithfully working for the last eighteen hundred years as the true—the Divine Vicar of Christ on earth. He still works amidst the various hostile influences which surround the sphere of His operations. He still works in the hearts of the people of God, in order to bring them up, practically and experimentally, to the divinely-appointed standard; but He never teaches a soul to lean on His work for peace in the presence of Divine holiness. His office is to speak of Jesus. He does not speak of Himself. 'He,' says Christ, 'shall receive of Mine, and shall show it unto you' (John xvi. 14). He can only present Christ's work as the solid basis on which the soul must rest for ever. Yea, it is on the ground of Christ's perfect atonement that He takes up His abode and carries on His operations in the believer: 'In whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise' (Eph. i. 13). No power or energy of the Holy Ghost could cancel sin; the blood has done that. 'The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin' (1 John i. 7).
It is of the utmost importance to distinguish between the Spirit's work in us and Christ's work for us. Where they are confounded, one rarely finds settled peace as to the question of sin. The type of the passover illustrates the distinction very simply. The Israelite's peace was not founded upon the unleavened bread or the bitter herbs, but upon the blood. Nor was it, by any means, a question of what he thought about the blood, but what God thought about it. This gives immense relief and comfort to the heart. God has found a ransom, and He reveals that ransom to us sinners in order that we might rest therein, on the authority of His word, and by the grace of His Spirit. And albeit our thoughts and feelings must ever fall far short of the infinite preciousness of that ransom, yet, inasmuch as God tells us that He is perfectly satisfied about our sins, we may be satisfied also. Our conscience may well find settled rest where God's holiness finds rest.
Beloved reader, if you have not as yet found peace in Christ Jesus, we pray you to ponder this deeply. See the simplicity of the ground on which your peace is to rest. God is well pleased in the finished work of Christ—'well pleased for His righteousness' sake' (Isaiah xlii. 21). That righteousness is not founded upon your feelings or experience, but upon the shed blood of the Lamb of God; and hence your peace is not dependent upon your feelings or experience, but upon the same precious blood, which is of changeless efficacy and changeless value in the judgment of God.
What, then, remains for the believer? To what is he called? To keep the feast of unleavened bread, by putting away everything contrary to the hallowed purity of his elevated position. It is his privilege to feed upon that precious Christ whose blood has cancelled all his guilt. Being assured that the sword of the destroyer cannot touch him, because it has fallen upon Christ instead, it is for him to feast in holy repose within the blood-stricken door, under the perfect shelter which God's own love has provided in the blood of the cross.
May God the Holy Ghost lead every doubting, wavering heart to find rest in the Divine testimony contained in those words, 'When I see the blood, I will pass over you' (Exod. ...........
The Holy Spirit Not Our Redeemer
There is, we regret to think, a large class of professing Christians who seem to have the unfounded notion engrained in their minds, that Christ came as a Saviour in the fulness of time, and on being rejected and received up into glory, the Holy Spirit came down to be the Saviour of sinners in His stead, and that whether men are now to be saved or lost depends entirely on the work of the Holy Spirit in them, and not on the work of Christ done for them; whereas the Holy Spirit was given as the crowning evidence that JESUS IS STILL THE SAVIOUR, even now that He is in heaven; and the great work of the Spirit is not to assume the place of Jesus as our Saviour, but to bear witness to Christ Jesus as the only Saviour, and by His quickening grace bring lost sinners to Him, that they may become "the sons of God by faith in Christ Jesus" (Gal. iii. 26). This He did on the blessed day of Pentecost when thousands of divinely-quickened souls received His testimony, believed "in the name of Jesus," and obtained "remission of sins" (Acts ii. 38). The Holy Ghost is not the Saviour, and He never professed to be so; but His great work, in so far as the unconverted are concerned, is to direct sinners to the Saviour, and to get them persuaded to embrace Him and rely upon Him. When speaking of the Holy Spirit, Jesus said distinctly to His disciples, "He shall not speak of, i.e., from, Himself HE SHALL GLORIFY ME" (John xvi. 13, 14). If to glorify Christ be the grand aim and peculiar work of the Holy Spirit, should it not also be the grand aim and constant work of those who believe on Him, and more especially of those specially gifted by Christ to minister in the Church of God?
The whole drift of the Holy Spirit's inspired oracles, as we have them in the Bible, is to glorify Christ; and the various "gifts" have been granted by Him (Eph. iv. 11, 12) to keep the purport of those Scriptures incessantly before the minds of men, and in so doing to beseech sinners to be reconciled to God. Now, Holy Scripture throughout clearly teaches that, simply on account of the one finished and all-sufficient and eternally efficacious work of Christ, sinners who believe in Him are "justified from all things;" that we are "justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood" (Rom. iii. 24, 25); and we are justified as "sinners," as "ungodly" (Rom. v.6, 8), and not as having an incipient personal righteousness wrought in us by the Holy Ghost. Few men with the word of God in their hands would subscribe to such a doctrine; and yet it is the latent creed of the great majority of professing Christians. It is, in fact, the universal creed of the natural heart. Fallen human nature, when under terror, says, Get into a better state by all means; feel better, pray better, do better; read your Bible more diligently; become holier, and reform your life and conduct, and God will have mercy upon you! But grace in the believer says, 'Behold, God is my salvation!" (Isa. xii. 2).
To give God some equivalent for His mercy, either in the shape of an inward work of sanctification, or of an outward work of reformation, "the natural man" can comprehend and approve of; but to be justified by faith alone, on the ground of the finished work of Christ, irrespective of both, is quite beyond his comprehension. But "the foolishness of God is wiser than men" (1 Cor. i. 25), for, instead of preaching holiness as a ground of peace with God, "we preach Christ crucified" (1 Cor. i. 23), "for other foundation can no man lay "—either for justification or sanctification—"than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. iii. 11); and, whatever others may do, in preaching the gospel, I am "determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor. ii. 2).
1 Representers' Answers to Queries.
3 Ebenezer Erskine.
4 Ralph Erskine.