The general work of the Spirit of God consists of two parts — the regeneration of sinners, and the edification of his people. Under the latter, several special operations of his grace are included, which are distinctly mentioned in sacred Scripture, and which may be considered separately, as examples of the connection which subsists betwixt his grace and all our duties, and as evidences of the love and wisdom with which his blessed agency is adapted to all the wants and weaknesses of our nature. It is an animating and consoling thought, that the promised grace of the Spirit has respect to every duty which we can be called to discharge, and to every change that can possibly occur in the condition, the temptations, and the trials of his people: for whether we be called to fight against our corruptions, the Spirit is our sanctifier; or to endure affliction, the Spirit is our comforter; or to choose the path of duty in times of perplexity, the Spirit is our guide; or to engage in prayer, the Spirit is the Spirit of grace and supplication; or to cultivate any one of the graces of the Christian character, they are all “the fruits of the Spirit.” So that whatever may be our duty, and however formidable the difficulties by which we are surrounded, we can look up to God on the warrant of his own Word, for the aid of that “good Spirit” who has promised “to help our infirmities,” and who says to each of his people, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee,” “My grace is sufficient for thee, I will perfect my strength in weakness,” “As thy day is, so shall thy strength be,” “Wait on the Lord, and be of good courage, and he will strengthen thine heart; wait, I say, upon the Lord.”
Sanctification is the work of the Spirit; and the commencement of it in the soul is to be dated from the time of a sinner’s conversion. Until he is converted, he is “dead in trespasses and sins;” for, says the apostle to the Ephesian converts, “You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit which now worketh in the children of disobedience. Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath even as others” (Ephesians 2:1-3) And again, to Titus, “For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.” (Titus 3:3-6) At the time of a sinner’s conversion, spiritual life is imparted to his soul; he who was dead is quickened; he rises with Christ to newness of life; he is born again; he is “God’s workmanship, created anew in Christ Jesus unto good works.”
This great change is often preceded, as we have seen Part 1 dealt with the Spirit’s work in the Conversion of Sinners; and Part 2 dealt with Illustrative Cases of conversion in the New Testament., by a preparatory work of conviction and instruction, and is always followed, as we shall now see, by a progressive course of sanctification; but it properly consists in his closing with Christ in the Gospel, by the deliberate assent of his understanding in an act of faith, and the decisive consent of his will in an act of choice. At the instant when a sinner, duly instructed in the truth, and impressed with a sense of his guilt and danger, flees to Christ for refuge, and embraces him as his own Saviour in all the fulness of his offices; at that instant he passes from “death unto life,” and becomes a partaker of all the privileges of the children of God. That we might understand the nature, the reality, and the magnitude of this blessed change, God has been pleased to record many examples of it in Scripture, which serve the double purpose of teaching us, both what is essentially involved in all cases of genuine conversion, and also the varieties of individual experience which may exist notwithstanding. In reviewing the cases of the Philippian Gaoler, and the dying Malefactor; of Lydia, Cornelius, and Paul; of Timothy, the Ethiopian Treasurer, and the three thousand who were converted on the day of Pentecost, we are enabled to see that, while there were great diversities of individual experience among them, both in respect to their previous character, and the manner and circumstances of their conversion itself, yet there was a radical change that was common to all, and which properly consisted in their being brought under the power of “the truth as it is in Jesus,” while it was followed in every instance by a life of new, and cheerful, and devoted obedience.