Our Lord Jesus in his last conversation with his disciples before his crucifixion said, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26 ESV).
Here we have a twofold work of the Holy Spirit, teaching and bringing to remembrance the things which Christ had already taught. We will take them in the reverse order.
The Holy Spirit brings to remembrance the words of Christ.
This promise was made primarily to the Apostles and is the guarantee of the accuracy of their report of what Jesus said; but the Holy Spirit does a similar work with each believer who expects it of him, and who looks to him to do it.
The Holy Spirit brings to our mind the teachings of Christ and of the Word just when we need them for either the necessities of our life or of our service. Many of us could tell of occasions when we were in great distress of soul or great questioning as to duty or great extremity as to what to say to one whom we were trying to lead to Christ or to help, and at that exact moment the very Scripture we needed—some passage it may be we had not thought of for a long time and quite likely of which we had never thought in this connection—was brought to mind.
Who did it? The Holy Spirit did it. He is ready to do it even more frequently, if we only expect it of him and look to him to do it. It is our privilege every time we sit down beside an inquirer to point him to the way of life to look up to the Holy Spirit and say, “Just what shall I say to this inquirer? Just what Scripture shall I use?”
There is a deep significance in the fact that in the verse immediately following this precious promise Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27 ESV). It is by the Spirit bringing his words to remembrance and teaching us the truth of God that we obtain and abide in this peace. If we will simply look to the Holy Spirit to bring to mind Scripture just when we need it, and just the Scripture we need, we shall indeed have Christ’s peace every moment of our lives.
One who was preparing for Christian work came to me in great distress. He said he must give up his preparation for he could not memorize the Scriptures. “I am thirty-two years old,” he said, “and have been in business now for years. I have gotten out of the habit of study and I cannot memorize anything.”
The man longed to be in his Master’s service and the tears stood in his eyes as he said it. “Don’t be discouraged,” I replied. “Take your Lord’s promise that the Holy Spirit will bring his words to remembrance, learn one passage of Scripture, fix it firmly in your mind, then another and then another and look to the Holy Spirit to bring them to your remembrance when you need them.”
He went on with his preparation. He trusted the Holy Spirit. Afterwards he took up work in a very difficult field, a field where all sorts of error abounded. They would gather around him on the street like bees and he would take his Bible and trust the Holy Spirit to bring to remembrance the passages of Scripture that he needed and he did it. His adversaries were filled with confusion, as he met them at every point with the sure Word of God, and many of the most hardened were won for Christ.
The Holy Spirit will teach us all things.
There is a still more explicit promise to this effect two chapters further on in John 16:12-14. Here Jesus says,
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (ESV)
This promise was made in the first instance to the Apostles, but the Apostles themselves applied it to all believers (1 John 2:20, 27).
It’s the privilege of each believer in Jesus Christ, even the humblest, to be “taught of God.” Each humblest believer is independent of human teachers—“you have no need that anyone should teach you” (1 John 2:27 ESV). This, of course, does not mean that we may not learn much from others who are taught of the Holy Spirit. If John had thought that he would never have written this epistle to teach others. The man who is the most fully taught of God is the very one who will be most ready to listen to what God has taught others. Much less does it mean that when we are taught of the Spirit, we are independent of the written Word of God; for the Word is the very place to which the Spirit, who is the Author of the Word, leads his pupils and the instrument through which he instructs them (Ephesians 6:17; John 6:33; Ephesians 5:18-19; cf. Colossians 3:16).
But while we may learn much from men, we are not dependent upon them. We have a Divine Teacher, the Holy Spirit.
We shall never truly know the truth until we are thus taught directly by the Holy Spirit. No amount of mere human teaching, no matter who our teachers may be, will ever give us a correct and exact and full apprehension of the truth. Not even a diligent study of the Word either in the English or in the original languages will give us a real understanding of the truth. We must be taught directly by the Holy Spirit and we may be thus taught, each one of us. The one who is thus taught will understand the truth of God better even if he does not know one word of Greek or Hebrew, than the one who knows Greek and Hebrew thoroughly and all the cognate languages as well, but who is not taught of the Spirit.
The Spirit will guide the one whom he thus teaches “into all the truth.” The whole sphere of God’s truth is for each one of us, but the Holy Spirit will not guide us into all the truth in a single day, nor in a week, nor in a year, but step by step. There are two special lines of the Spirit’s teaching mentioned:
1. “He will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13 ESV).
There are many who say we can know nothing of the future, that all our thoughts on that subject are guesswork. It is true that we cannot know everything about the future. There are some things which God has seen fit to keep to himself, secret things which belong to him (Deuteronomy 29:29). For example, we cannot “know the times, or the seasons” of our Lord’s return (Acts 1:7), but there are many things about the future which the Holy Spirit will reveal to us.
2. “He will ‘glorify me’ (that is, Christ) for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:14 ESV).
The Holy Spirit’s special subject of teaching with the believer, as with the unbeliever, is Jesus Christ. It is his work above all else to reveal Jesus Christ and to glorify him. His whole teaching centers on Christ. From one point of view or the other, he is always bringing us to Jesus Christ.
There are some who fear to emphasize the truth about the Holy Spirit lest Christ himself be disparaged and put in the background, but there is no one who magnifies Christ as the Holy Spirit does. We shall never understand Christ, nor see his glory until the Holy Spirit interprets him to us. No amount of listening to sermons and lectures, no matter how able, no amount of mere study of the Word even, would ever give us to see “the things of Christ”; the Holy Spirit must show us and he is willing to do it and he can do it. He is longing to do it. The Holy Spirit’s most intense desire is to reveal Jesus Christ to men.
On the day of Pentecost when Peter and the rest of the company were “filled with the Holy Spirit,” they did not talk much about the Holy Spirit, they talked about Christ. Study Peter’s sermon on that day; Jesus Christ was his one theme, and Jesus Christ will be our one theme, if we are taught of the Spirit; Jesus Christ will occupy the whole horizon of our vision. Christ will be so glorious to us that we will long to go and tell everyone about this glorious One whom we have found.
Jesus Christ is so different when the Spirit glorifies him by taking of his things and showing them unto us.
The Holy Spirit reveals to us the deep things of God which are hidden from and are foolishness to the natural man.
We read in 1 Corinthians 2:9-13,
But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. (ESV)
This passage, of course, refers primarily to the Apostles, but we cannot limit this work of the Spirit to them. The Spirit reveals to the individual believer the deep things of God, things which human eye has not seen, nor ear heard, things which have not entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those that love him. It is evident from the context that this does not refer solely to heaven, or the things to come in the life hereafter. The Holy Spirit takes the deep things of God which God has prepared for us, even in the life that now is, and reveals them to us.
The Holy Spirit interprets his own revelation. He imparts power to discern, know and appreciate what he has taught.
In the next verse to those just quoted we read, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV). Not only is the Holy Spirit the Author of revelation, the written Word of God: He is also the Interpreter of what he has revealed.
Any profound book is immeasurably more interesting and helpful when we have the author of the book right at hand to interpret it to us, and it is always our privilege to have the author of the Bible right at hand when we study it. The Holy Spirit is the Author of the Bible and he stands ready to interpret its meaning to every believer every time he opens the Book. To understand the Book, we must look to him, then the darkest places become clear.
We often need to pray with the Psalmist of old, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalm 119:18 ESV). It is not enough that we have the revelation of God before us in the written Word to study, we must also have the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit to enable us to apprehend it as we study.
It is a common mistake, but a most palpable mistake, to try to comprehend a spiritual revelation with the natural understanding. It is the foolish attempt to do this that has landed so many in the bog of so-called “Higher Criticism.” In order to understand art a man must have aesthetic sense as well as the knowledge of colors and of paint, and a man to understand a spiritual revelation must be taught of the Spirit. A mere knowledge of the languages in which the Bible was written is not enough. A man with no aesthetic sense might as well expect to appreciate the Sistine Madonna, because he is not color blind, as a man who is not filled with the Spirit to understand the Bible, simply because he understands the vocabulary and the laws of grammar of the languages in which the Bible was written. We might as well think of setting a man to teach art because he understood paints as to set a man to teach the Bible because he has a thorough understanding of Greek and Hebrew.
In our day we need not only to recognize the utter insufficiency and worthlessness before God of our own righteousness, which is the lesson of the opening chapters of the Epistle to the Romans, but also the utter insufficiency and worthlessness in the things of God of our own wisdom, which is the lesson of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, especially the first to the third chapters. (See for example 1 Corinthians 1:19-21, 26-27)
The Jews of old had a revelation by the Spirit but they failed to depend upon the Spirit himself to interpret it to them, so they went astray. So Christians today have a revelation by the Spirit and many are failing to depend upon the Holy Spirit to interpret it to them and so they go astray. The whole evangelical church recognizes theoretically at least the utter insufficiency of man’s own righteousness. What it needs to be taught in the present hour, and what it needs to be made to feel, is the utter insufficiency of man’s wisdom. That is perhaps the lesson which this twentieth-century of towering intellectual conceit needs most of any to learn.
To understand God’s Word, we must empty ourselves utterly of our own wisdom and rest in utter dependence upon the Spirit of God to interpret it to us. We do well to lay to heart the words of Jesus himself in Matthew 11:25, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children” (ESV). A number of Bible students were once discussing the best methods of Bible study and one man, who was in point of fact a learned and scholarly man, said, “I think the best method of Bible study is the baby method.”
When we have entirely put away our own righteousness, then and only then, we get the righteousness of God (Philippians 3:4-7, 9; Romans 10:3). And when we have entirely put away our own wisdom, then, and only then, we get the wisdom of God. “Let no one deceive himself,” says the Apostle Paul. “If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise” (1 Corinthians 3:18 ESV). Emptying ourselves must precede filling; we must pour ourselves out that God may be poured in.
We must daily be taught by the Spirit to understand the Word. We cannot depend to-day on the fact that the Spirit taught us yesterday. Each new time that we come in contact with the Word, it must be in the power of the Spirit for that specific occasion. That the Holy Spirit once illumined our mind to grasp a certain truth is not enough. He must do it each time we confront that passage. Andrew Murray has well said,
Each time you come to the Word in study, in hearing a sermon, or reading a religious book, there ought to be as distinct as your intercourse with the external means, the definite act of self-abnegation, denying your own wisdom and yielding yourself in faith to the Divine teacher. (The Spirit of Christ, 221)
The Holy Spirit enables the believer to communicate to others in power the truth he himself has been taught.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5,
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (ESV)
In a similar way in writing to the believers in Thessalonica in 1 Thessalonians 1:5, “our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake” (ESV).
We need not only the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth to chosen apostles and prophets in the first place, and the Holy Spirit in the second place to interpret to us as individuals the truth he has thus revealed, but in the third place, we need the Holy Spirit to enable us to effectually communicate to others the truth which He himself has interpreted to us. We need him all along the line.
One great cause of real failure in the ministry, even when there is seeming success, and not only in the regular ministry but in all forms of service as well, comes from the attempt to teach by “enticing words of man’s wisdom” (that is, by the arts of human logic, rhetoric, persuasion, and eloquence) what the Holy Spirit has taught us. What is needed is Holy Spirit power, “demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:4 ESV). There are three causes of failure in preaching to-day:
- Some other message is taught than the message which the Holy Spirit has revealed in the Word. (Men preach science, art, literature, philosophy, sociology, history, economics, experience, etc., and not the simple Word of God as found in the Holy Spirit’s Book,—the Bible.)
- The Spirit-taught message of the Bible is studied and sought to be apprehended by the natural understanding, that is, without the Spirit’s illumination. How common that is, even in institutions where men are being trained for the ministry, even institutions that may be altogether orthodox.
- The Spirit-given message, the Word, the Bible studied and apprehended under the Holy Ghost’s illumination is given out to others with “enticing words of man’s wisdom,” and not in “demonstration of the Spirit and of power.”
We need, and we are absolutely dependent upon the Spirit all along the line. He must teach us how to speak as well as what to speak. His must be the power as well as the message.