The Threefold Work of the Holy Ghost

Tuesday’s with Edwards!

This selection serves as a good follow up to my last post, Bad Rap. In this sermon explores John 16:8, And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. In this section Edwards gives his take on how God does this in the life of a believer.

You can read the sermon (it is actually a series of sermons) at This selection is from Jonathan Edwards, “The Threefold Work of the Holy Ghost” in Sermons and Discourses, 1723-1729, ed. Kenneth P. Minkema, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 14 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997) pages 406-408.


Natural men, and those that have never been taught by the Holy Ghost as the truth is in Jesus, may have a sort of understanding of it. They are capable of a literal and notional understanding of it, yea, and of a kind of belief in it. They may have it instilled into them by education, yea, and may be sensible of the fairness and plausibleness of the arguments brought to prove that Christ performed righteousness for sinners, that he died to save ’em and that God accepts them for his sake.

Therefore what is it they want, what lack they yet? What is it they are to expect, if ever they are savingly converted, more than they have? What more understanding and conviction of this way {of sinners’ reconciliation and acceptance with God through Christ} is that that the Holy Ghost gives?

(1) The Holy Ghost convinces of the reality of this way of reconciliation and acceptance {with God through Christ} by the righteousness of Christ. Natural men think they believe that Christ is Savior, etc. They hear a great deal about it, and they don’t contradict it; they have heard a great deal of arguing and reasoning, and they don’t deny the force of the arguments. Yet for all that, it don’t seem real to them.

They hear it as a plausible story, but they never saw the reality of it, never saw the true grounds of the belief of it.

Persons may give a slighty and superficial assent to a thing and yet not realize it. It makes another impression upon the mind; it strikes deep, and influences the will and bias after quite another manner. There is a sensible, real conviction of the truth of the gospel, which declares this way of salvation to us that the Holy Ghost is the author of.

He believes that this is in very deed the way of life, the way of acceptance with God; that Christ is certainly the Savior of the world; that ’tis his suffering and blood that makes satisfaction for sin, and his merits that make men acceptable; that God receives men into his love and favor for Christ’s sake. It all seems a reality to them: they see what ground and reason there is to believe it; they see the evident characters of truth in it all. John 6:69, “We know and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.” 1 John 5:6, “This is he that came by water and by blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.” And [1 John 5:10, “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.” Ephesians 3:18–19, that you “may be able with all saints to comprehend what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.”

The Holy Spirit, when he enters, he lets in that divine light that discovers truth, and makes it appear as truth and shows the way of salvation, which appears and makes itself known by its own intrinsic evidence, which it carries with it.

(2) The Holy Ghost convinces of the suitableness and sufficiency of this way of salvation. The believing soul, when thus enlightened, sees a suitableness. Before, when under terrors of conscience for sin, there was a sense of having displeased and provoked God and deserved his wrath; and the sinner is sensible that God’s authority and his majesty and justice stand against him, and he sees no way to escape vengeance. The sinner would feign make recompense some way himself, for he can see no propriety in {that way of salvation}.

But now he sees how all ends are answered by Christ’s righteousness and by his way of salvation; how that God’s honor, his majesty, authority and greatness are magnified as much as ever, though his provocation should all be passed by. He now sees a fitness in this way of acceptance into God’s favor; how it is adapted to the case of such sinners as he; how well the remedy is suited to the disease, and how sufficient it is for him.

He sees that there is enough in Christ to make way for his acceptance; that his blood is of value enough, and that his1 dignity and excellent righteousness is enough to procure acceptance; and that it is sufficiently excellent for the Father to take such delight in it as to be well-pleased with him for it, however unworthy. Matthew 9:21, “If I may but touch the hem of his garment.”

The robes of Christ’s righteousness appear glorious robes, sufficient to cover his nakedness, and not only so, but sufficient to make him so adorned and beautiful as to be the object of the delight of the Father.

Though perhaps he may not be able to explain in words much about it, yet he sees a wonderful congruity in these things. He sees it to be a becoming, suitable thing that God should forgive and love poor sinners for Christ’s sake.

(3) And lastly, the Holy Ghost causes to see a glorious excellency in this way. It all appears with a cast of glory upon it: there is a charming excellency and wisdom seen in it; it appears now an heavenly and divine way: there are in it the evident shines of divine glory.

It appears glorious as to its author. God the great contriver, and Jesus Christ the Savior, appears excellent, and there are many wonderful and admirable things appear in his person and actions.

And especially his grace and love appears glorious. Natural men see no glory in this dying love of Christ that they tell so much about. But it appears glorious to believers, unspeakably so.

The ends of this way of salvation also appear glorious: the advancement of the glory of God’s grace, the exalting and magnifying God’s mercy in the sight of men and angels; and the selection, the new creation and the eternal glory of sinful worms; and the exalting of the glory of Jesus Christ the Savior: these appear as excellent ends to one that has been taught by the Holy Ghost.

The means of it also appear most glorious, viz. the righteousness of Christ, his mediatorial worthiness in his living and dying.

The manifestation of the perfections of God in Christ which appear in it seem glorious: God’s wisdom in this contrivance, his power in overcoming Satan, his majesty, his holiness appears in its purity and beauty, and specially his grace. 2 Corinthians 4:6, “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Not all these things particularly at once.

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