The Place and the Work of the Holy Spirit
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 4 - The Holy Spirit of Truth

Reading: John 14:16-17,26; 15:26-27; 16:12-15.

It is good for us to dwell upon some of the values of the Holy Spirit. The very things said about the Holy Spirit, the things which are commanded with reference to the Holy Spirit, are themselves indications of our need, that just show exactly what the Lord knows to be our need. He indicates both need and supply by the very phrases and terms in which He speaks of the coming and activity of the Holy Spirit. It is upon some of these that we shall dwell.

Notice how in these passages there is one designation given to the Holy Spirit three times repeated. It is: "the Spirit of truth".

Surely there is a significance of no small value in that the Lord Himself so repeated that title of the Holy Spirit, that in speaking of the other Comforter or Advocate He should repeatedly call Him "the Spirit of truth". It must carry with it something to be taken account of. On the surface, of course, it would seem to mean that the Holy Spirit would impart and bring forth truth. That is true, but that is not the whole meaning of the phrase. The Holy Spirit has always brought truth to light, but there is a deeper meaning in the Lord's title, and if we could really get that deeper value it would be some enrichment to us. It is something which we individually need, and which the Lord's people as His church very much need.

It would sound quite commonplace if we were to say that if only the whole church all the way through from the beginning had remained under the absolute government, control and direction of the Holy Spirit, a much greater testimony to the glory of Christ would have been found in this world than there is. That is a very ordinary kind of statement, but when you begin to look into the meaning of the Holy Spirit's government, control, direction and ministry in general, and break it up and analyse it, you become more and more deeply impressed with the tremendous and indispensible values of that ministry. And in this one connection alone, as the Spirit of Truth, there are two values which cannot be overestimated, and which, if only they were found in their place among the people of God, would count for very much to His glory.

As the Spirit of Truth He Represents Something Extra to the Scriptures

He represents for the church, and for the Lord's people, an extra something to the Scriptures. The Scriptures are the Scriptures of truth, but no one can really get the good of the Scriptures and in a living way enter into the living values of the Scriptures, except by the Holy Spirit. That, again, sounds a commonplace statement, but how searching it is!

Think of all the handling of the Scriptures that has gone on for twenty centuries! It can, in the main, be divided into two: the morally intellectual and rationalistic handling of the Scriptures, and what it has led to - a desert, a wilderness, a desolation. The result is that all the authority of the Scriptures has been set aside, and man's intellectual equipment has become the authority in the place of the Word of God. On the other hand, the merely mental taking hold of the Scriptures, not in a rationalistic way, a critical way, nor in the realm of antagonism, or opposition, or question, but in quite earnest, sincere, honest and devoted attention to the Scriptures; a mastery of the Scriptures, a great comprehension of the content of the books of the Bible and of the Bible as a whole - honest, earnest, devoted, sincere as it may be - can know very little more Life than the other. There may be a great knowledge of the Scriptures, and yet a dead knowledge for all really spiritual purposes.

There is a classic illustration in the New Testament of what we are speaking about, in the case of Apollos. It was said of Apollos at one time of his life, that he was in a place of responsibility in the church, that he was a man mighty in the Scriptures. And yet it is disclosed almost immediately afterwards that the people under his ministry had never heard of the Holy Spirit's advent and presence.

When the Lord Jesus thus speaks again and again of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Truth, He touches a very real need, and shows that the Holy Spirit provides for that need, that there is an extra something to the Scriptures without which even the Scriptures cannot get us into the realm of real spiritual fruitfulness. There is only one realm in which you may have anything extra to the Scriptures, and that is the Holy Spirit's interpretation of them, the Holy Spirit's illumination of them, the Holy Spirit's quickening of them in our hearts. The Spirit of Truth is just that extra and indispensable factor.

There is the truth concealed, but the Spirit of the Truth is necessary to make that concealed truth a revealed truth. There is a great deal of difference between knowing truth through the Word of God by the Holy Spirit's revelation, and knowing truth as a statement in the Word of God. It is that which discriminates between what is, after all, without vital energy and that which is throbbing with Life.

We are saying nothing for the moment, of necessity about ministering the Word. It is possible for a very dead and unenlightened person to preach the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit to quicken the Word and make it live in some heart. But what we are saying emphatically is this, that unless the Holy Spirit does that, even the Word, though it be the Scripture, will fall short and fail. There is no special charm attached to the Book as a book. The value of the Book is that the Holy Spirit, who gave it, uses it; otherwise it can be used to death and not to Life. And so you can find that even the Scriptures in the hands of one thousand different men can be given at any given point one thousand different interpretations. And the Holy Spirit does not give one thousand different and contradictory interpretations of the Word of God.

As the Spirit of Truth He acts as a Check Upon all Things Said and Done

What a factor that would be today in the church, if it were really operating! A check upon all things said! Do you know what it is to say something and the Holy Spirit act as a brake upon you, and tell you at once that that is not true and you had better put that right? Do you know what it is to have said something and find that when you have said it the bottom has fallen out of everything, and you cannot go on and that thing comes back to you? You feel there was something not quite right about that? Do you know what it is for the Holy Spirit to register in you, after you have said something, a sense of: 'You will have to think about that again; we have not finished with that yet'? And you know quite well that something has been buttonholed and you have to come back to that later on. And when you come back to the thing and get more light, and go over it again, you say: 'Well, my light on that was very imperfect, and I was dangerously near making a mistake, and the Holy Spirit knew it.' He is acting as a check upon things said. What a factor that is in ministry, and in life in the general intercourse of the Lord's people. If you know that, it surely indicates that you are in the hands of the Spirit.

Think of the wider ranges of the whole testimony, the whole ministry of the church as well as of the individual conversation. What a factor for preserving things in absolute purity is the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit! It is almost unthinkable, beyond our imagination, what a different state would prevail if that had always been the case in the history of the church! Think of all that has come in, that has not been checked up and ruled out as wrong, and has come to hold sway. Why? Simply because the Holy Spirit was not there in control. It never would have been, if He had been in His place.

Then as to things done as well as said: "They assayed to go into Bithynia; and the Spirit of Jesus suffered them not... having been forbidden of the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia" (Acts 16:6,7). We know the fruitful result of that checking of action by the Holy Spirit, that Macedonia immediately became open. If on all things in our lives there was just that checking of action by the Holy Spirit, how much fruitless activity would be ruled out, and how everything would be conserved in a realm of fruitfulness.

These are only suggestions as to the necessity of the Holy Spirit, and it shows what the Lord has provided for His church. That is the nature of the church's government, of the life of the Lord's people who will walk in the Spirit; the Spirit of Truth giving the Lord's own thought in Life about things in His Word, checking the utterances and activities of His people. If you think about it in the realm of comparison or contrast with what there is, you will see how inestimable is the value of the Spirit of Truth. We shall never say a wrong thing without knowing that we have said it. We shall never do a wrong thing without knowing all about it. We shall be having a wonderful, living unveiling of the Lord in His Word by the Spirit of Truth.

There are certain other things which are said about the coming of the Spirit of Truth. We are shown that there would be an effect in the different parts of the life and constitution of the believer.

The Effect Upon the Mind

You will see from the Word, if you read it with this thought before you, that the coming of the Holy Spirit had a wonderful effect upon their minds.

a) Illumination

In the first place it was in illumination of the mind. The Lord Jesus said it would be so. "He shall take... and show" (John 16:15, AV). "I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot... now" (John 16:12). "Your capacity is such now that I cannot say it; when He comes that capacity will be enlarged, and you will be able! You will see what now you cannot see, even though I were to say these things! You will understand what it is now impossible for you to understand, even though I were to go on talking! But when He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, there will be a wonderful change in your minds!"

Paul more fully dealt with that matter, and it is a point to note that he dealt with it at what we may call quite an advanced point in the life of the church. When you get to the letter to the Ephesians you are getting into a fairly large realm of revelation. You are certainly not at the beginning of the Christian life when you are in the realm of Ephesians. You are coming to ultimate things; unto the profoundest things; you are in the realm of the mystery which had been hid from all ages and generations. The apostle there, in relation to believers who may have a lot of revelation, a lot of truth, prays that they may be granted a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. This matter is going on and on, and ever on, and Paul, the aged, will still have the longing to know Him, even at the end. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the illumination of the mind concerning the Lord Jesus in an ever-growing way, right on, continuously.

We find that blessed movement in the case of the disciples themselves. How their minds were arrested! How difficult it was - no, impossible - for them to understand what He was saying! How they betrayed their failure to grasp the inner meaning of all that He had been saying! The depravity of human nature is never more terribly exposed than when you come into the place of the upper room. When you think of all that is represented by at least arriving in the upper room, and all that being together there means at that time; the atmosphere saturated with pathos and the tragedy of the cross; the gathering shadows which all must have felt; and yet in that upper room, when they had been sitting together with Him at the table, and the bread had been broken, and these unspeakably solemn things had been uttered; even there the depth of the hopeless depravity of human nature is possible, and they had to quarrel as to who would be greatest, and stand upon their dignity and allow Him to act the servant in their presence. Yes! This thing is so deep, so strong, that it comes out in the most sacred moments, the most solemn hour. It betrays itself when you would think the very last thing in all the world that could ever insinuate or show itself would be personal interest. It comes out even there. How it shows the denseness, the leadenness of the human spirit to understand.

Over against that dark picture of impenetrable leadenness of spiritual apprehension, what a glorious change in so short a time, when you find now they have apprehended; but not only have they apprehended, a proof that it is spiritual apprehension is shown in the fact that it is all now unto Him. You can tell how much spiritual apprehension people have, not by their talk, not by their phraseology, not by their grasp of Scripture, but by their selfless conduct, by their selfless, disinterested devotion to the Lord. That is how it was with them. You find a wonderful insight into the things that the Lord had said. Through the letters and writings afterwards you are able to see that what they did not then grasp, now they have grasped. They have seen right through now. The Holy Spirit has come as the Spirit of illumination to their minds.

It is a great day when what we have been hearing, what we have been listening to, what has been coming to us as words, is suddenly lit up in our minds and we see it aglow with Divine light and glory. We find that we have been in possession of treasures of the value of which we knew nothing. What a value that puts upon the Holy Spirit!

I sometimes wonder what would happen if all that we knew about the Lord in a mental way suddenly did become quickened into Life by the Holy Spirit. We speak about the wonderful work of the apostolic days, but what was at the heart of it all? What was it that was represented by that ministry which really did turn the world upside down, and which registered such tremendous Divine force upon this earth? You say: 'It was the Holy Spirit!' Yes, but how? They had seen the Lord as they had never seen Him before! They had entered into the spiritual and living meaning of all that He had been saying and doing. They had never seen it, but now it was all alive in its true, Divine value, and they entered into it, and their hearts were just full of wonder.

Let us take an illustration from the Old Testament. You know the Old Testament type of Pentecost. You know that the first feast of the Jews was the Passover, and at the Passover time, the harvest time (for harvest time commenced with the Jews from the very first day that the sickle was put in) the first ripe grain was gathered - a very precious sidelight on the Lord Jesus, the Firstfruits of the harvest - and the Passover marked Israel's redemption. Israel, as it were, was the firstfruit brought out of the world in redemption. The harvest commenced. It was a process. Fifty days after the Passover and redemption from Egypt, they found themselves at Sinai. What happened at Sinai? The law was given! And more: the tabernacle was given! The tabernacle was brought into being bit by bit, fragment by fragment, every detail according to a Divine, heavenly pattern. And when the tabernacle was in order, every part in its place, the whole structure perfectly arranged, the Shekinah Glory descended and filled the tabernacle. That was the first Pentecost, fifty days after Passover.

You have the Lord Jesus as the Passover, and fifty days after there is Pentecost. What was Pentecost? The glory of the Lord coming in to make living all that which (perfectly true, absolutely accurate, quite right) was as yet dead. In the case of the tabernacle every law has been obeyed, every commandment observed, every detail attended to according to specification, the whole thing is finished, perfect, and yet dead, not operating, not functioning, until the Shekinah Glory descends, and then it all becomes alive. It is all throbbing with Divine possibility. And so at Pentecost the doctrine is all represented, the teaching may be all there, there will never be any teaching extra to what is existing on the day of Pentecost (you will have a fuller illumination of what does exist, but you will not have anything extra), it is all there. The disciples could have gone out and preached it all as a comprehensive system of truth, but it was dead until the fifty days expired, and then the Shekinah Glory - the Holy Spirit - descended and filled it all, and it became living.

That is exactly what it was that lay behind the effectiveness of their ministry. It was not that they were preaching certain truths. It was that the glory from above had entered into those truths in a living way. The Holy Spirit had made every bit alive in them. What a difference it makes.

Shall we not agree from our hearts as never before that the Holy Spirit is essential? And does not this explain weakness, failure, and ineffectiveness? We preach the truth; it is not that we are not orthodox, it is not that we are preaching something contrary to the truth, but so often it falls short. It is all so absolutely and perfectly right, and yet it lacks something. Have you not met that again and again? You have to say: 'Well, I can find no fault with what is said, but there is something that is not there which ought to be there. It is immaculately correct, but...!' What a lot there is hanging upon that "but".

b) Conviction and certainty

We have only spoken about the illumination of the mind. There were other effects upon their minds. There came to their minds a mighty, new conviction and certainty. We cannot get away from that. These men are sure, they are certain; they are not speaking surmises, they are not guessing, they are not saying: 'Well, I suppose...!' or: 'So to speak!' No! It is their declaration, with absolute certainty. It is a work of the Holy Spirit. They knew!

The Effect Upon the Heart

There were also different effects upon the heart.

a) Sanctification

We have suggested as much in what we have said as to their personal interests, relationships with one another, their quarrelsomeness - like little children quarrelling for first place, and so on. Now their hearts by the Holy Spirit are sanctified, and the root sin of all sins is dealt with, and that is self. If you can get to that, you have touched, I should say, everything that you can touch, for all other forms of sin are traceable in some way or another to self. Sometimes it showed itself in what looked like quite reputable forms: "I will follow Thee even unto death" (Matt. 26:35); "I will lay down my life for Thee" (John 13:37). That is magnificent self! It is self-confidence. Self-confidence is self after all, and it is proved incapable of getting through in Divine things. But now the root sin is dealt with, the backbone of self is broken, has snapped. The Holy Spirit did that. The heart is sanctified right at that point, where all things are touched; self is smitten with a fatal blow.

Self may at some subsequent time lift its head, but in the spirit it will be known immediately what it is. That is, there will be the recognition of the fact that it is forbidden, it must not be, it cannot be. There has been something done which, while it has not eradicated that thing from the whole nature, represents that that thing has been smitten with a mortal wound, and the one who has come that way knows quite well that, even though self should at some time seek to express itself, it is a deadly realm, something out of bounds, you dare not go over there, and you are glad to get back again. Death lies registered upon self when the Holy Spirit gets in charge. It is always like that. That is the secret of sanctification. It is the smiting of that root thing, so that all other out-growths of the life are selfless, and there is a great abandonment to the Lord, shown in a great devotion to His children; a heart devotion to the Lord's interests, as represented in men and women all around.

b) Assurance

Not only was there a mighty conviction and certainty in the mind, there was heart assurance. One of the blessed things that you are able to trace through apostolic ministry is heart assurance. If you would only pause to think about that, you would find that the apostles were marked with wonderful, grand assurance of heart. It is one of those things which we cannot appreciate as spectators. Standing back without the same experience, the same knowledge of the Holy Spirit, we simply say: "If I were put into circumstances like that, my faith would give out, I could not believe any more! Do you mean to tell me that that great catalogue of sufferings, afflictions, distresses, all that that meant, did not disturb their assurance of heart? I do not understand that! If I went through all that I could not believe God's love, God's wisdom! I could not see how that could all be to the glory of God!" But the assurance of heart through it all is a marvellous thing. They come out of these things, they come through these things, and their hearts are undisturbed, they are as sure of the Lord as ever they were.

They do not hesitate to tell you that they were perplexed and bewildered. We can believe that they were perplexed sometimes, "Pressed out of measure"! (2 Cor. 1:8). Anybody who knows something about pressure can sympathise with that. And yet all the time there is that counter thing, represented by a glorious series of "but's": "Persecuted, but..., cast down, but ..." (2 Cor. 4:9, AV). This is not mere human optimism. There is something more than that here. This is the strength of a victorious Christ brought into the heart by the Holy Spirit. This is the Holy Spirit in the heart; and who shall say that we do not need the Holy Spirit in this respect?

c) Rest

Heart rest by the Holy Spirit. This is an extra element.

We shall go no further with the fact of the Holy Spirit in them and upon them, as it is seen in other realms of their being. But this is enough to once more bring us to the place where surely we shall continually seek to have these lives of ours under the complete government and in the complete possession of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the glorified Christ.


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