The Holy Spirit and
Man's Salvation

Topic:  Salvation Type:   Articles Author:   J. C. Ryle

The Holy Spirit and Man's Salvation

Let it be a settled thing in our minds that the matter we are considering is no mere speculative question in religion, about which it means little what we believe. On the contrary, it lies at the very foundation of all saving Christianity. If we are wrong about the Holy Spirit and His offices, we are wrong to all eternity.

The necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit arises from the total corruption of human nature. We are all by nature dead in sins [EPH 2:1]. However shrewd, clever and wise in the things of this world we are all dead towards God. The eyes of our understanding are blinded. We see nothing properly. Our wills, affections and inclinations are alienated from Him Who made us. The carnal [natural] mind is at enmity against God [ROM 8:7]. By nature we enter the world with neither faith, fear, love or holiness. In short, left to ourselves, we should never be saved.

Without the Holy Spirit no man ever turns to God, repents, believes, and obeys. Intellectual training and secular education alone make no true Christians. Acquaintance with fine arts and science leads no one to Heaven. Pictures and statues never brought one soul to God. The "tender strokes of art" never prepared any man or woman for judgment day. They bind up no broken heart and they heal no wounded conscience. The most zealous efforts of ministers alone cannot make men Christians. The ablest scriptural reasoning has no effect on the mind. The most fervent pulpit eloquence will not move the heart. The naked truth alone will not lead the will. We who are ministers know this well by painful experience. We can show men the fountain of living waters but we cannot make them drink. We see many a one sitting under our pulpits year after year, and hearing hundreds of sermons, full of Gospel truth, without the slightest result. We mark him year after year, unaffected and unmoved by every Scriptural argument—cold as the stones on which he treads as he enters our church—unmoved as the marble statue which adorns the tomb—dead as the old dry oak of which his pew is made—feelingless as the glass in the windows, through which the sun shines on his head. We look at him with wonder and sorrow. And we learn, as the Scripture teaches, by such cases as these, that nothing will make a Christian but the introduction into the heart of a new nature, a new principle and a Divine seed from above.

What is it then that man needs? We need to be born again and this new birth we must receive of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of life must give us life. The Spirit must renew us. The Spirit must take away from us the heart of stone. The Spirit must put in us the heart of flesh. A new act of creation must take place. A new being must be called into existence. Without all this we cannot be saved. Here lies the main part of our need of the Holy Spirit. Except a man be born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God [JOH 3:3]. There is no salvation without a new birth.

Let us dismiss from our minds for ever the common idea that natural theology, moral persuasion, logical arguments or even an exhibition of gospel truth, are sufficient of themselves to turn a sinner from his sins, if once brought to bear upon him. It is a strong delusion. They will not do so. The heart of man is far harder than we fancy: the old Adam is much more strong than we suppose. The heart of man will never look to Christ, repent and believe, till the Holy Spirit comes down upon it. The same power which said at the beginning, Let there be light: and there was light [GEN 1:3], must work a creating work in us, or we shall never rise to newness of life.


If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His [ROM 8:9]. What are the marks or evidences by which the presence of the Holy Spirit in a man’s heart may be known? How are we to know whether we are partakers of the Holy Spirit?

A man MAY KNOW whether he has the Holy Spirit. From our Bibles we can find out whether we are in the way to Heaven. Let us dismiss from our minds once and for ever the many unscriptural evidences of the Spirit’s presence with which multitudes content themselves. Reception of the sacraments and membership in a church are no proofs whatever that we have the Spirit of Christ. A claim to be speaking in an "unknown tongue" is certainly no evidence of the Holy Spirit being present!

The presence of the Holy Spirit 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 it 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 pilot on board a ship by its keeping a 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. It is clearly marked out in our Lord’s words: Every tree is known by his own fruit [LUK 6:44].

What are the specific fruits by which the presence of the Spirit in the heart may be known? Let me briefly set them before you in order. They are all clear and unmistakable, plain to him who understands, and right to those who find knowledge [PRO 8:9]. First, 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 [JOH 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. He who knows nothing of all this, and goes carelessly through life, thoughtless about sin, indifferent and unconcerned about his soul, is a dead man before God. He has not the Spirit of Christ.

Second, 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 [JOH 16:15]. He leads the soul who feels his 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, delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification [ROM 4:25]. He who knows nothing of all this and builds on any other foundation, is dead before God. He has not the Spirit of Christ.

Third, 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 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 [GAL 5:22]. He who lacks these things, and knows nothing of daily practical godliness, is dead before God. He has not the Spirit of Christ.

Fourth, where the Holy Spirit is, there will always be the habit of earnest private prayer, He is the Spirit of grace and supplication. 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 newborn soul prays with much conflict and strife. He who 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.

Finally, where the Holy Spirit is, there will always be love and reverence for God’s Word. He makes the newborn 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 [1PE 2:2; PSA 1:2]. He shows man a fullness, depth, 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, manna and sword, which are essential to a safe journey through this world. If the man cannot read He makes him love to hear. But to the Word the Spirit always leads him. He who 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 urge your attention to them. 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 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.

I freely admit that the evidences of the Holy Spirit, in some minute details, are not always uniform. The paths over which He conducts souls, are not always precisely the same. The experience that true Christians pass through in their beginnings is often somewhat various. This only leads people, and the results which He at length produces, are always alike. In all true Christians, the five great marks I have mentioned will always be found.

I grant freely that the degree and depth of the work of the Spirit in the heart may vary exceedingly. There is weak faith and strong faith; weak love and strong love; a bright hope and a dim hope; a feeble obedience to Christ’s will, and a close following of the Lord. This only I maintain; that the main outlines of religious character in all who have the Spirit, perfectly correspond. Life is life, whether strong or feeble. The infant in arms, though weak and dependent, is as real and true a representative of the great family of Adam as the strongest man alive.

Wherever you see these five great marks, you see a true Christian. Let that never be forgotten. Show me a man who repents, and believes in Christ crucified; who lives a holy life, and delights in his Bible and prayer; and I see in him a member of the body of Christ, out of which there is no salvation. I behold in him an heir of that crown of glory which is incorruptible and fades not away [1PE 1:4].

If he has the Holy Spirit, he has Christ. If he has Christ, he has God. If he has God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit, he has eternal life.

Where these five great marks of the Spirit are wanting, we have just cause to be afraid about a man’s soul. Visible churches may endorse him, sacraments may be administered to him, forms of prayer may be read over him, ministers may charitably speak of him as "a brother"; but all this does not alter the real state of things. The man is in the broad way that leads to destruction. Without the Spirit he is without Christ. Without Christ he is without God. Without God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit, he is in imminent danger. The Lord have mercy upon his soul!

I ask a question of all who read this message. I am not afraid to ask this question. I take my stand on a plain declaration of Scripture. I find an Apostle saying: If any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of His [ROM 8:9]. What can be more reasonable than to press on your conscience the inquiry, "Have you the Spirit of Christ?"

I will not be stopped by the foolish observation that no man can tell in this world whether he has the Spirit. Can no man tell? Then what was the Bible given to us for? Where is the use of the Scriptures if we cannot discover whether we are going to Heaven or Hell? The thing I ask CAN be known.

The evidences of the Spirit’s presence in the soul are simple, plain, and intelligible. No honest inquirer needs miss the way in this matter. YOU may find out whether you have the Holy Spirit.

I entreat you not to evade the question. I charge you to give it an honest answer. Baptism, church membership, respectability, morality, outward correctness, are all excellent things. But do not be content with them. Go deeper: look further. "Have you received the Holy Spirit? Have you the Spirit of Christ? Have you been born again?"

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This Page Last Updated: 12/07/98 A. Allison Lewis