(Reprinted from Systematic Theology, Volume 1, pp. 319-323)
In the Old Testament, it is God the Spirit Who is most present. It is He Who speaks through the prophets and holy men, and it is He Who is the comfort and strength of covenant men. The repentant David prayed, "Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy Holy Spirit from me" (Ps. 51:11). In spite of this, we can speak of the post-resurrection era as the time of the coming of the Holy Spirit. The reason for this appears in our Lord's own words:
7. 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.
8. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:
9. Of sin, because they believe not on me;
10. Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more;
11. Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.
12. I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.
13. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.
14. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. (Jn. 16:7-14)
Our Lord speaks plainly of the coming of the Spirit in some unusual sense. He is not here referring to Pentecost, but to something far greater and broader. Our Lord says that He Himself must leave His disciples and this world. It is expedient, profitable, and necessary to bring together the purposes of the Triune God that God the Son leave, and that God the Spirit come. The word translated as expedient is sumphero, which is used also by Caiaphas in John 11:50. Caiaphas declares that it is expedient or profitable for Christ to be sentenced to death; only so can the purposes of their national history be realized. Our Lord now says that His departure and the Spirit's coming are necessary to God's purposes. Our Lord had previously pointed to that coming and its greatness (Jn. 7:37-39). Now, with His atoning work and resurrection completed, the Spirit can come.
The Spirit is called Parakletos;the word has reference to an advocate or legal assistant in a court of law; such a person is a comforter to one who is accused; he is, however, a prosecutor of the guilty also. Here the Spirit plainly functions as both the Comforter and Advocate of Christ's members, and also as a Judge and Prosecutor of Christ's enemies: "[H]e will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment." The word reprove is elencho, which can mean rebuke, also convict. The Spirit convicts the world.
We see here the significance of this coming of the Spirit. The Spirit from creation has been active in creation. Now Christ has come, and He has set forth God's sovereign claim on all men. Jesus came preaching "the gospel of the kingdom of God" (Mk 1:14f.). By His death and resurrection, He became the head of the new humanity (1 Cor. 15:20-50). Now the Holy Spirit comes to prosecute that witness of Jesus Christ in the hearts of all men.
First, He will reprove or convict the world. Christ had come, and the world crucified Him. Moreover, it was not the world at its worst that crucified Christ. The Jews were the most moral, the best educated, and the most disciplined people of that era. With all that, they were at heart humanists and sons of Adam, unregenerate sons. The depravity of man was manifested in this fact, that the fallen world, at its best, crucified Christ, and the fallen world since continues to reject Him and to give assent to that judgment by their refusal to know Him as Lord.
Morris' comment on this text is very good:
The world is guilty, but it requires the Spirit to sheet this home. The Spirit convicts the world in two senses. In the first place He "shows the world to be guilty," i.e., He secures a verdict of "Guilty" against the world. But in the second place we should take the words to mean also that the Spirit brings the world's guilt home to itself. The Spirit convicts the individual sinner's conscience. Otherwise men would never be convicted of their sin.1
Churchmen are too accustomed to seeing the relevance of the faith, of Christ, and of the Spirit to the believer only, forgetting that the relevance is cosmic. Clearly, the coming of the Spirit means that the Old Testament presence is now an expanded and worldwide one. The Spirit will not allow the world to forget Christ; He works in the hearts of all men, including those not yet evangelized, to bring forth conviction, a recognition of their guilt and their rebellion against Almighty God.
Second, the world is convicted of sin, because it will not believe on Him (Jn. 16:9). The emphasis is on Christ. He is very God of very God, He against Whom mankind is in revolt. The world prefers to make its sins vague and abstract when sin is personal; it is against God the Son, the incarnate Son, Who came to be the head of the new human race. The world may daydream about a new paradise, but, in all its being and actions, it works to re-create the old Babel and the new Hell. Then and now, the world's best and worst cry out, "We will not have this man to reign over us" (Lk. 19:14).
The world would like to forget about Christ, and a sleeping church seems all too ready to help the world to forget Him. The Spirit, however, will not permit it. He convicts the world of sin, all sin, and supremely its sin in relation to Christ.
Third, the Spirit convicts the world of righteousness, "because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more" (Jn. 16:10). Righteousness and justice are the same words. The world outside of Christ seeks to establish a humanistic doctrine of justice: social justice, human rights, equal rights, etc. All of this is injustice, not justice. Christ's death and resurrection set forth justice; His ascension is the triumphant procession of the King of Justice to His throne. Because man the rebel deserves to die, Christ's death witnesses to the righteousness and binding force of God law for all time. Because Christ arose from the dead, and by His power makes us alive in Him, we know that "the just shall live by faith" (Rom. 1:17). Because of His ascension, we know that God's righteousness and law are forever on the throne.
Fourth, the Holy Spirit convicts the world of judgment, i.e., of the reality of God's judgment. The word judgment is, in the Greek, krisis, separation and division. "The prince of this world," he whom the fallen world sees as its leader in revolt against God, Satan, is judged. The cross and the resurrection are the defeat of Satan and his world.
The world, however, refuses to acknowledge God's judgment, although their entire being witnesses to it; they suppress and hold down that truth in their unrighteousness, their fanatical adherence to injustice (Rom. 1:18). They have no liking for Calvin's sentence, "Without judgment there can be no God." They are determined on creating a judgment-free or justice-free world. The philosopher Walter Kaufmann, in his insistence on man's autonomy from God, called for a world Without Guilt and Justice. Let there be no conscience and no judgment!2 Heine's rejection of repentance for sin was a direct insult against God and His righteousness or justice: "The good God will pardon me, for that's His job."3 Since Heine's day, his sentence has become a half-wit aphorism among the ungodly.
The Holy Spirit makes this judgment on Satan and the ungodly resound in their hearts. Hence the world of the unregenerate is the world of neuroses, psychiatrists, and psychoanalysts. Guilt is declared by Freud to be a primitive relic lingering in man's psyche since the days of the primal horde, but guilt haunts all fallen men as a very present and personal fact. The Holy Spirit convicts men of their need for and their actual judgment by the court of Almighty God.
Up to this point, the work of the Holy Spirit, i.e., convicting men of sin, justice, and judgment, is a work in relationship to the world outside of Christ. Now, our Lord turns to the Spirit's work in relationship to His humanity, the people of the covenant. While Christ is with them, His followers rely on Him, and they cannot bear the thought of separation. He is the Lord, the miracle-worker, and the Savior. They cannot think of life without His physical presence. Until He leaves, they cannot do the "greater works" (Jn. 14:12), the worldwide conquest, which is their calling. How shall this be done?
Our Lord declares, fifth, that the Holy Spirit is "the Spirit of truth" Who shall guide His people "into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you" (Jn. 16:13-14). The Spirit leads men into all the Truth, Jesus Christ, (Jn. 14:6). The Greek reading, according to Westcott, is "the truth in all its parts."4 The Spirit's guidance is not of Himself: it expresses the one will of the Triune God.
The Spirit's communication is an amazing one: "whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come." Some have limited this to an understanding of "the whole Christian way."5 No doubt, it seems to some to open the door to unrestricted new prophecies and revelations, and some have indeed so interpreted it. What does it mean? The fall of Adam I is the fall of all the sons of Adam I; the life and righteousness of Adam II [Christ] is the possession by grace of all the sons of Adam II, of all His members. The sons of Adam I cannot transcend Adam I; in the words of Thomas Boston, they cannot leap out of Delilah's lap into Abraham's bosom. Likewise, the sons of Adam II cannot transcend Adam II. Thus, the limits of His word are their limits; there can be no new revelations. There can be and are gifts of wisdom and light which enable men to see the meaning of those words, and their light on our times. To say that "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23) is a very simple and necessary forecast of things to come. To develop its implications fully and specifically in relation to prayerlessness, inflation, ignorance of Scripture and especially of God's law (Dt. 28), politics, family life, business, the arts and sciences, and all things else requires "the Spirit of truth." Even more, it requires that we glorify Christ even as the Spirit of truth does.
The coming of the Spirit thus unleashes powerful forces in history, forces of conviction and growth. History cannot be stagnant. The pool of Bethesda had healing only when the angel "troubled the water" (Jn. 5:4). Today, the Holy Spirit is troubling the waters of history, as He has since Pentecost. That troubling is conviction and judgment for the ungodly. Churchmen who draw back from the troubled waters remain impotent. Those who in Christ and in the power of the Spirit move into the troubled waters alone know the power of His salvation and victory.
1. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1971), 698.
2. Walter Kaufmann, Without Guilt and Justice (New York, NY: Peter Wyden, 1973).
3. "Ilico," No More Apologies (London, England Religious Book Club, 1941), 76f.
4. B F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans [reprint], 1954), 230.
5. Morris, op. cit., 701.