How to See the Holy Spirit – From J.C. Ryle (Old Paths)

(Galatians 5:16-23  ESV)  (16) But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  (17) For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.  (18) But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.  (19) Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality,  (20) idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions,  (21) envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  (22) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  (23) gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

We have been talking quite a lot about repentance, and we all know how often wicked people feign it, then insist that we accept it as genuine. Merely this insistence by such a person is evidence enough that their repentance is false. But where real repentance occurs, the Holy Spirit is present. He is the author of repentance and apart from the Spirit this turning from sin to Christ will never happen. Here are some words from J.C. Ryle, reminding us how it is possible for us to know that the Holy Spirit really is at work in someone:

….Let it be a settled principle in our Christianity, that a man may know whether or not he has the Holy Ghost. Let us dismiss from our minds once and for ever the many unscriptural evidences of the Spirit’s presence with which thousands content themselves. Reception of the sacraments and membership of the visible Church are no proofs whatever that we “have the Spirit of Christ.” In short, I call it a short cut to the grossest antinomianism to talk of a man having the Holy Ghost so long as he serves sin and the world.

The presence of the Holy Ghost in a man’s heart can only be known by the fruits and effects He produces. Mysterious and invisible to mortal eye as His operations are, they always lead to certain visible and tangible results. 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. I lay this down broadly and unhesitatingly. I find no safe ground to occupy excepting this. I see no safeguard against the wildest enthusiasm, excepting in this position. And I see it clearly marked out in our Lord Jesus Christ’s words: “Every tree is known by his own fruit.” (Luke 6:44.)….

(1) Where the Holy Ghost 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 hateth. He that knows nothing of all this, and saunters carelessly through life, thoughtless about sin, and indifferent and unconcerned about his soul, is a dead man before God. He has not the Spirit of Christ.

(2) Where the Holy Ghost is, there will always be lively faith in Jesus Christ, as the only Saviour. 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, Christ — “delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification.” (Romans 4:25.) He that knows nothing of all this, and builds on any other foundation, is dead before God. he has not the Spirit of Christ.

(3) Where the Holy Ghost is, there will always be holiness of life and conversation. He is the Spirit of holiness. (Romans 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 law of God. He makes a man turn his face towards God, and 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, meekness, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, temperance,” and causes these seeds to spring up and bear pleasant fruit. (Galatians 5:22.) He that lacketh these things, and knows nothing of daily practical godliness, is dead before God. He has not the Spirit of Christ.

(4) Where the Holy Ghost is, there will always be the habit of earnest private prayer. He is the Spirit of grace and supplication, (Zechariah 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. He that knows nothing of real, living, fervent, private prayer, and is content with some old form, or with no prayer at all, is dead before God. He has not the Spirit of Christ.

(5) Finally, where the Holy Ghost 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 Peter 2:2; Psalms 1:2.) He shows man a fulness, 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. If the man cannot read He makes him love to hear: if he cannot hear He makes him love to meditate. But to the Word the Spirit always leads him. He that sees no special beauty in God’s Bible, and takes no pleasure in reading, hearing, and understanding it, is dead before God. He has not the Spirit of Christ.

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. I am not afraid of their being searched, criticized, and cross-examined. Repentance toward God, faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ — holiness of heart and fife — habits of real private prayer — love and reverence toward God’s Word, these are the real proofs of the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in a man’s soul. Where He is, these marks will be seen. Where He is not, these marks will be lacking.  [Emphasis original.]

(Ryle, J. C. (2011-06-16). Old Paths (Kindle locations 3937-3986). Heritage Bible Fellowship. Kindle edition.)

[April 2, 2023: Editors’ notes:
—For some comments made prior to April 2, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to April 2, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to April 2, 2023 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (April 2, 2023), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]

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