The Marks Of The Presence Of The Holy Spirit
By J. C. Ryle (1816 – 1900)
“…If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (Rom. 8:9).
Beware of supposing that a man may have the Spirit when there is no outward evidence of His presence in the soul. It is a dangerous and unscriptural delusion to think so. We must never lose sight of the broad principles laid down for us in Scripture: “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth” (1 John 1:6); “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God…” (3:10).
There are people who boast of having a saving interest in Christ, and say they are pardoned and forgiven, while at the same time they live in willful sin and open breach of God’s commandments. The true believer in Christ is “dead to sin.” Every person who has a real hope in Christ “purifies himself, even as He is pure” (1 John 3:3).
I charge my readers to remember that the effects, which the Spirit produces, are the only trustworthy evidences of His presence. To talk of the Holy Spirit dwelling in you and yet being unseen in your life, is wild work indeed. It confounds the first principles of the Gospel – it confounds light and darkness – nature and grace – conversion and unconversion – faith and unbelief – the children of God and the children of the devil.
There is only one safe position in this matter. There is only one safe answer to the question, “How shall we decide who have the Spirit?” We must take our stand on the old principle laid down by our Lord Jesus Christ, “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt. 7:20). Where the Spirit is there will be fruit – he who has no fruit of the Spirit has not the Spirit. A work of the Spirit unfelt, unseen, inoperative, is a great delusion. Where the Spirit really is He will be felt, seen, and known.
Just as you know the compass-needle to be magnetized by its turning to the north – just as you know there is life in a tree by its sap, buds, leaves and fruits – just as you know there is a steersman on board a ship by its keeping a steady regular course – just so you may know the Spirit to be in a man’s heart by the influence He exercises over his thoughts, affections, opinions, habits, and life.
Five Specific Marks
But what are the specific fruits by which the presence of the Spirit in the heart may be known? I find no difficulty in answering that question. The Holy Spirit always works after a certain definite pattern. Just as the bee always forms the cells of its comb in one regular hexagonal shape, so does the Spirit of God work on the heart of man with one uniform result. His work is the work of a master. The world may see no beauty in it – it is foolishness to the natural man. But “he that is spiritual judgeth all things” (1 Cor. 2:15). A well-instructed Christian knows well the fruits of the Spirit of God. Let me briefly set them before you in order. They are all clear and unmistakable, “plain to him that understandeth, and right to them that find knowledge” (Prov. 8:9).
(1) Where the Holy Spirit is, there will always be deep conviction of sin, and true repentance for it. It is His special office to convince of sin (John 16:8). He shows the exceeding holiness of God. He teaches the exceeding corruption and infirmity of our nature. He strips us of our blind self-righteousness. He opens our eyes to our awful guilt, folly and danger. He fills the heart with sorrow, contrition, and abhorrence for sin, as the abominable thing which God hates.
(2) Where the Holy Spirit is, there will always be lively faith in Jesus Christ, as the only Savior. It is His special office to testify of Christ, to take of the things of Christ and show them to man (John 16:15). He leads the soul which feels its sin to Jesus and the atonement made by His blood. He shows the soul that Christ has suffered for sin, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God. He points out to the sin-sick soul that we have only to receive Christ, believe in Christ, commit ourselves to Christ, and pardon, peace, and life eternal, are at once our own. He makes us see a beautiful fitness in Christ’s finished work of redemption to meet our spiritual necessities. He makes us willing to disclaim all merit of our own and to venture all on Jesus, looking to nothing, resting on nothing, trusting in nothing but Christ – Christ “delivered for our offences, and...raised again for our justification” (Rom. 4:25).
(3) Where the Holy Spirit is, there will always be holiness of life and conversation. He is the Spirit of holiness (Rom. 1:4). He is the sanctifying Spirit. He takes away the hard, carnal, worldly heart of man, and puts in its place a tender, conscientious, spiritual heart, delighting in the Word of God. He makes a man turn his face towards God, desire above all things to please Him, and turn his back on the fashion of this world, and no longer make that fashion his god. He sows in a man’s heart the blessed seeds of “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance,” and causes these seeds to spring up and bear pleasant fruit (Gal. 5:22-23).
(4) Where the Holy Spirit is, there will always be the habit of earnest private prayer. He is the Spirit of grace and supplication (Zech. 12:10). He works in the heart as the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry “Abba, Father.” He makes a man feel that he must cry to God, and speak to God – feebly, falteringly, weakly, it may be – but cry he must about his soul. He makes it as natural to a man to pray as it is to an infant to breathe; with this one difference – that the infant breathes without an effort, and the new-born soul prays with much conflict and strife.
(5) Finally, where the Holy Spirit is, there will always be love and reverence for God’s Word. He makes the new-born soul desire the sincere milk of the Word, just as the infant desires its natural food. He makes it “delight in the law of the Lord” (1 Pet. 2:2; Psa. 1:2). He shows man a fullness, and depth, and wisdom, and sufficiency, in the Holy Scripture, which is utterly hid from a natural man’s eyes. He draws him to the Word with an irresistible force, as the light and lantern, and manna, and sword, which are essential to a safe journey through this world.
I place these five grand marks of the Spirit’s presence before my readers, and confidently claim attention to them. I believe they will bear inspection. Repentance toward God – faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ – holiness of heart and life – habits of real private prayer – love and reverence toward God’s Word – these are the real proofs of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in a man’s soul. Where He is, these marks will be seen. Where He is not, these marks will be lacking.
If You Have Not the Spirit…
I desire to wind up all I have been saying by a few words of direct personal application.
Let me, in the first place, give an earnest invitation to all who feel that they have not the Spirit. That invitation is short and simple. Go and cry to God this day in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and pray for the Holy Spirit to be poured down on your soul. There is every possible encouragement to do this. There is warrant of Scripture for doing it. “Turn you at My reproof: behold I will pour out My Spirit unto you. I will make known My words unto you” (Prov. 1:23); “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?” (Luke 11:13). There is warrant in the experience of thousands for doing it. Thousands will rise at the last day, and testify that when they prayed they were heard, and when they sought grace, they found it. Above all, there is warrant in the person and character of our Lord Jesus Christ. He waits to be gracious. He invites sinners to come to Him. He rejects none that come. “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name” (John 1:12).
Go then to Jesus, as a needy, wanting, humble, contrite sinner, and you shall not go in vain. Cry to Him mightily about your soul, and you shall not cry to no purpose. Confess to Him your need, and guilt, and fear, and danger, and He will not despise you. Ask, and you shall receive. Seek, and you shall find. Knock and it shall be opened to you. I testify to the chief of sinners this day, that there is enough in Christ, and to spare, for your soul. Come, come – come, this very day. Come to Christ.
If You Have the Spirit…
Let me, in the next place, give a parting word of exhortation to all readers who have received the Spirit of Christ – to the penitent, the believing, the holy, the praying, the lovers of the Word of God. That exhortation shall consist of three simple things.
For one thing, be thankful for the Spirit. For another thing, be filled with the Spirit. Seek to be more and more under His blessed influence. Strive to have every thought, and word, and action, and habit, brought under obedience to the leadings of the Holy Spirit. Grieve Him not by inconsistencies and conformity to the world. Quench Him not by trifling with little infirmities and small besetting sins. Seek rather to have Him ruling and reigning more completely over you every week that you live. Pray that you may yearly grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ. This is the way to do good to the world. An eminent Christian is a lighthouse – seen far and wide by others, and doing good to myriads, whom he never knows. This is the way to enjoy much inward comfort in this world, to have bright assurance in death, to leave broad evidences behind us, and at last to receive a great crown.
Finally, pray daily for a great outpouring of the Spirit on the church and on the world. This is the grand need of the day – it is the thing that we need far more than money, machinery, and men. The “company of preachers” in Christendom is far greater than it was in the days of Paul; but the actual spiritual work done in the earth, in proportion to the means used, is undoubtedly far less. We need more of the presence of the Holy Spirit – more in the pulpit, and more in the congregation – more in the pastoral visit, and more in the school. Where He is, there will be life, health, growth, and fruitfulness. Where He is not – all will be dead, tame, formal, sleepy, and cold. Then let everyone who desires to see an increase of pure and undefiled religion, pray daily for more of the presence of the Holy Spirit in every branch of the visible church of Christ.