There is such an ignorance among religious circles of God's way of salvation, what it is, and how He saves a sinner that the average church member can't tell you what he believes, much less what God's Word says about it. This is the result of setting aside the Holy Spirit's work in a sinner's salvation and degenerating to the level of reason and human mental ability and persuasive words of man's wisdom. Do you know why there is no hope for the Laodicean church age, that is, Christendom, in the end of the age before Christ comes? It is because the church has rejected the Holy Spirit, which is "blasphemy against the Holy Ghost," that Christ said was the unpardonable sin. Man has set himself up as the supreme authority in the stead of God's verbally inspired Word, and relegated the Holy Spirit to the scrapheap of superstition, thereby extinguishing the only light on the way to heaven and destroying the way back to God, which is the Lord Jesus Christ. That is why there is such amazing spiritual blindness overspreading the hearts of men and women everywhere.
Before the sinner can be saved, there must be the work of the Holy Spirit to "guide you into all truth... he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you." (John 16:13-15). The sinner must first be awakened by the Holy Spirit before he can be enlightened, according to Eph. 5:14, "Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." Second, he must be enlightened before he can he convinced or convicted: "And when he is come, he will reprove (convince) the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment." Third, the sinner must be convinced before he can be wounded to death by the "sword of the Spirit" (Rom. 6:3-4) "So many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death." Fourth, the heart of the sinner must be wounded and broken before it will turn from sin to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation (Psa. 38:8-9), "I am feeble and sore broken: I have roared by reason of the disquietness of my heart. Lord, all my desire is before thee; and my groaning is not hid from thee." Fifth, the heart of the sinner must turn to Christ (Joel 2:13), which is repentance, and run after Him (Song of Solomon 1:4), seeking Him with all the heart (Psa. 69:32), "Your heart shall live that seek God," and (Jer. 29:13), "Ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart." That is faith. You don't know that you are repenting and believing; all you know is your whole heart is running after Him, whom your soul loveth, as One that you must have or perish! So then we see that salvation is an inward work of God in the hidden recesses of that heart by God's Holy Spirit. Now, my friends, if you do not believe that, I do not have a message for you, and God is silent to you, for He has no other way of speaking to men's hearts.
When once the Holy Spirit awakens a sinner, that is, makes him alive by the Word of God, He begins to enlighten him by showing him from the Word what he is by nature, who he is by nature, and the judgment he is under; and the sinner begins to meditate upon what the Holy Spirit has shown him. He is convinced, or convicted of his condition, because he sees written upon the walls of memory the very same things that the Holy Spirit is pointing out to him from the Word. As the Holy Spirit continues to convict him, there comes a separation from everybody, and everything of the world; he is shut up to himself, and shut up with God and His Word. Here is where the wounding begins to take place, as the sinner is wounded by the Word in the hands of the Holy Spirit. His ego is wounded, his pride is wounded, his self-confidence is wounded, his self-righteousness is insulted. Not only is he wounded from within, but he is wounded from without, as his loved ones and friends don't understand him. David said, "My lovers and my friends stand aloof from my sore; and my kinsmen stand afar off" (Psa. 38:11). Jeremiah said, "I was a derision to all my people; and their song all the day" (Lam. 3:14). Again David said, "But mine enemies are lively, and they are strong: and they that hate me wrongfully are multiplied. They also that render evil for good are mine adversaries; because I follow the thing that good is" (Psa. 38:19, 20). But as that sinner "kisses the Son" (Psa. 2:12) and runs after Him, seeking Him with all his heart as the Holy Spirit draws him, that heart is broken and contrite and bows to the rod; and when the all-seeing eye of God sees that everything in the heart is broken at the feet of Christ, He reveals Him to him out of the volume of the Book. So from beginning to end, the Holy Spirit leads the sinner to the Saviour, and does all in that sinner's heart that is required for him to be brought into the chambers of the King.
This generation knows nothing about such Holy Spirit conviction (I'm speaking of Christendom as a whole), and when a sinner, whether in the pulpit, the pew, or the world, begins to be separated unto God by Holy Spirit conviction, no one understands him. His religious friends, including the pastor, are baffled at his case. His loved ones want to put him in a mental institution and try to cure his mental ailment, because they think he has lost his mind. His friends pity him and try to persuade him that he is affected by to much religion, that he is going to lose his mind and they will use every method in the world to turn him aside. His enemies will laugh at him, call him crazy, make fun of him, criticize him, and watch him to see how they can take advantage of his condition. They watch his words and try to trip him up. Satan is past master at trying to stop Holy Spirit conviction; he knows that if he can stop conviction, that sinner will never get saved. Our only hope is that the Holy Spirit is greater than Satan, and He will not let the sinner go until He gets him to Christ. That's my only hope, and if I didn't have that hope, friend, I would quit preaching, because I can't convict a sinner, I can't keep him under conviction, and I can't get him to Christ!
The worst enemy to the Gospel that we face today is the unsaved religionist, usually a preacher who doesn't know what to do with an awakened sinner. He is constantly crying, "Peace, peace, when there is no peace." The average preacher will tell an awakened sinner that he is all right, he is saved, and the only thing he needs to do is get into the church and go to work, when that poor sinner knows he is lost, and knows that all his religious duties are just so much kindling wood to burn him in Hell. He'll keep saying, "But you don't understand – I'm a lost sinner!" The most deadly enemy of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ today (let me repeat it!) is an unsaved religionist who knows nothing about Holy Spirit conviction. The only salvation he knows anything about is just a decision for Christ. This is not an inward work of the Holy Spirit, but merely a mental assent to the fact that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and to facts about Christ and the Bible. There is no Holy Spirit conviction about that! There's no deep Bible repentance about that! It is a decision that the sinner makes for himself, which disturbs nobody and leaves no testimony for Christ that is effective, and it seals everything he touches for Hell. Now that's the battleground, and that's the situation we face today in preaching the Gospel for the salvation of sinners.
I do not confine God to any one way of acting in saving a lost soul. I do not believe that everyone who is saved has to undergo the same degree of Holy Spirit conviction, but I do insist on the fact that salvation is an inward work of God in the heart by the Holy Spirit. Before you, or anyone else, can ever say that you are saved (whether you are under long Holy Spirit conviction or short Holy Spirit conviction), you must undergo certain things that I am going to lay down here at this time. You may say what you please – you can believe it or disbelieve it – but I'll stake my destiny upon what I am going to say today as being true according to God's Word. Now, I'm that positive. Someone said once, "I don't like your positiveness." Well, Satan doesn't either. He likes this pussy-foot stuff, this maybe-so, think-so, hope-so, and all that. He likes for you to dress up the simple truth of God's Word in an abundance of eloquent, persuasive words of man's wisdom, which only lulls the consciousness of sin by tickling the intellect. But, brother, I am just as positive about these truths as I am plain in stating them, that salvation is an inward work of the Holy Spirit wrought in the heart of the sinner.
That is our subject at this time: "Salvation, an Inward Work of the Holy Spirit in the Heart of the Sinner," and our text is found in John 16:7-11. Let's read together, "Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged." "When he is come (the Holy Spirit), he will reprove (convict, convince) the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment." Now, no preacher in the world can convince a sinner that he is a sinner and needs a Saviour. You can convince him that he ought to join the church, that it is the manly thing to do, and live a better life. You can convince him that he ought to give his heart to Jesus, his hand to the preacher, hit the sawdust trail, and make a profession of faith. You can convince him that he ought to live a better life and turn over a new leaf. But you cannot convince him that he is a sinner, that he is lost, Hell-bound, Hell-deserving, and that he needs a Substitute. You cannot convince a sinner and work in that sinner's heart the salvation of God. Let me tell you, preacher, that is the work of the Holy Spirit. The inward work in the heart of a sinner has to be wrought there by the Holy Spirit, who alone can take the "Word of God (which) is quick (alive), and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword," and divides asunder the soul and spirit... and discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Heb. 4:12) You and I cannot do it: we can preach the Gospel under the power of the Holy Spirit, but we cannot do that work.
Now, let's read our text again, "And when he (Comforter) is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment," Every sinner, before he is united to Christ by "faith of the operation of the Holy Spirit," is in the world, of the world, for the world, and with the world in God's judgment upon the prince of the world, Satan. During His earthly life, walking with His disciples for three years and a half, Christ first called His disciples, and then He "reproved" them of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment, so that He could tell the Father in John 17:6-8, "I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word...I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me." I've heard many individuals say, "Oh, if I could have been with the disciples and heard Christ teach them," but that is what happens to you under Holy Spirit conviction, my friend, because Christ said, "If I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment." If you will not have the Holy Spirit's convincing work, you would not have had Christ's if you had walked with Him on earth! In this Scripture we have Christ's own analysis of the work of bringing a sinner out of the world and bringing him unto the Father through His mediatorial work. And if you ever get saved, you will experience certain things that Christ laid down here, which we will look at more in detail at this time.
"He will reprove" (which means, convince, or "bring by argument to belief beyond a doubt" – demonstrate a thing as existing or as being of a certain character). In other words, the Holy Spirit puts the sinner's life and character to a proof, exposing, laying bare before God his moral condition in God's eyes, and his judicial standing before God's justice. Read the life of Christ with this in mind, and see how He reproved the world, especially the religious world, of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. This is necessary work, because no sinner who is a child of Satan, a citizen of his kingdom, which is the world, will want to give up his citizenship as long as he believes in his country. Not until his eyes are opened to behold "the Heavenly country" will he declare plainly that he seeks that country. (Heb. 11:13-15) So God's elect are "lost" in the world, and the Holy Spirit has to seek them out and bring them home to the Father's house. There are three things He must convince them of before they will go with Him, forsake the world and all it holds, and seek Christ, the "Prince and Saviour" of the heavenly country: sin, because they believe not on Christ; righteousness, because He has gone to the Father, and been exalted at His right hand as Lord, to whom every knee shall bow (Phil. 2:9-11); judgment, because the "prince of this world" is already judged, and all who remain in the world under his dominion will be judged with him. These three facts are brought home by the Holy Spirit through the powerful and effectual arguments set forth in God's Word.
Now, let's look at the sinner's reaction when the Holy Spirit calls him out of the world and convinces him of his moral and judicial standing as a citizen of Satan's kingdom. First, he loves the world and the things of the world, which are the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. (I John 2:15-17) The world sees no moral wrong in these things; they laud them to the skies, and all their motives and ambitions revolve around the world system. But God sees them as they are, morally corrupt, depraved, nothing good or profitable, abominable, and stench in His nostrils. Therefore, the first thing the Holy Spirit convinces the sinner of is sin. Why? "Because they believe not on me." If you do not believe on Christ, that is, if you are not vitally united with Him so that His ways are your ways, and His thoughts your thoughts, then you have no covering for your sins; they are upon you, exposed to the eyes of Almighty God. The first thing the Holy Spirit does is to sweep away all false faith, which is false assurance, and leave you standing under the burden of your sins. You see first your actual transgressions, as the Holy Spirit puts His finger on particular acts, thoughts, or deeds and words that you know about, and He lets you see what God thinks about them. A true sight of your actual transgressions will make you weep over your condition, and mourn and bewail your sins in the sight of a holy God. If this has never taken place, you cannot say that you are saved. The Holy Spirit does this by holding up the mirror of the Law, writing in the sinner's mind the Law, and every action is weighed in the balances and found wanting. What a wretched state to be in! Any individual who makes a joke of the sins he committed in the past, or the kind of life he lived before he was saved, has never been saved, according to Rom. 6:21, "What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death."
In the Gospel you learn that "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures" (I Cor. 15:3), and you try to lay hold of that by faith (and you may get temporary peace by doing so), but you soon find that you are still in unbelief no matter what you do. You try to clean up your life, or you try to apply the blood, but you are only left with an uneasy feeling that maybe it is not all well with your soul. The uneasiness of soul drives you on in search of peace, but you seem to get farther from peace (because you want peace and not the Prince of Peace), until finally you see and feel and know and acknowledge your guilty distance from a holy God. Here you learn what a grievous thing it is to depart from God, to shut Him out of your life, your plans, your ambitions and purposes in life. You feel your alienation from God, "cut off from the life that is in God." You come to see now that it is because of your guilt that can't be appeased by anything that you can do, sin that can't be washed even with nitre, because it is the very warp and woof of your existence, your very being, which you inherited from your father Adam. Look within that heart, and you see and feel all the hell of lust in your bosom, all the pride, malice, revenge, hatred, and rebellion. The fountain from which all your thoughts and actions flow is polluted from within, and you wonder how you happened to become so wicked. My friend, if you have never felt the misery of this inward corruption, and seen that God might justly curse you for it, you have never been saved. When it dawns in upon your heart (and this takes place only as the Holy Spirit presses home the truth of God's moral Law), all you can do is fall at the feet of Christ and acknowledge it, confessing that God is just and holy, and He would be just in casting you out of His presence. Remember, that God's glory and justice is honored just as much by passing your just sentence upon you as it is by Him passing your sentence of death upon Christ. When you see yourself like this, when you are convinced by the Holy Spirit that you are such a sinner, you cannot help but see that all your best religious duties and performances are nothing but the "motions of sin" in your members, and therefore an insult to the holiness of God. They are but filthy rags of self-righteousness, which nauseate a holy God. Not until then will you give up your last idol, which is self righteousness, and plead for His pardon and cleansing. Now you turn to the righteousness of Christ and try to lay hold of Him by faith, but you cannot. The unbelief of your soul plagues you by day and by night – you're cut off from God and can't believe, can't get to Him, can't lay hold of Him. If you have never been truly convinced of sin, because you believe not on him, then you have never sought Him with all your heart until you found Him, and are still in sin and unbelief.
Why can't you believe? Why can't you lay hold on Christ by faith? Christ said, Whosoever "believeth on me hath everlasting life"; why can't you believe Him? Did you notice that next statement, that the Holy Spirit convinces the world "of righteousness, because I go to my Father"? Yes, you are convinced of your sin by the Holy Spirit, and you are pointed to the righteousness of Christ which will cover your sin. But notice the words, "because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more." Christ is hidden in the bosom of the Father, and you can never find Him until the Holy Spirit brings you to Him. You will cry after Him, you will long after Him, you will cry, "O where can I find Him?" But notice that Christ, who died for our sins according to the Scriptures, was buried, and rose again for our justification, was also exalted by God the Father at His right hand, and He has "given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Here is where your will is crossed, because you will bow to the Lordship of Christ, or all your tears and convictions are just sentimental longings to escape Hell or ease your conscience. If your will has never been crossed, and broken by Almighty Power, you cannot say that you know the Lord Jesus Christ; He is still hidden from your eyes in the bosom of the Father, because God only reveals Christ to a broken heart.
Now, let me tell you something right here: when every sinner gets to the place that God crosses his will, here is where he realizes that his will is held captive by Satan: he cannot break; in fact, he will not break, and what is more, he does not want to break. You say, "Brother Shelton, oh tell me, what can I do in the condition I'm in! I can't bow my will to His." Your only hope is to plead with Him to break that will anyway, anyhow, and regardless of the cost, because if He doesn't, the Holy Spirit convinces you that as a child of Satan you are under the judgment with Satan, and that he is already judged. It is now or never, and that is where many sinners fall under the judgment of God, where God becomes silent to them. But, praise the Lord, He is able to deliver any poor captive sinner from Satan's clutches of unbelief and self-will, and put him in his right mind, sitting at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ, learning of Him. Now, if you have never been convinced of judgment and Satan's captive power over you, then you do not know what it means to be delivered into the kingdom of the Son of God. May the Holy Spirit do His work of convincing the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment at this time.