GRIEVING THE HOLY SPIRIT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-14-71 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing this morning message. The title of the sermon is Grieving the Holy Spirit. In our preaching through the Book of Ephesians, we have come to the thirtieth verse of the fourth chapter; and the sermon is a textual sermon, it is an expounding of just the one text. This is the reading of that text: “And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” [Ephesians 4:30].
Every word in the sentence is fraught with deepest and poignant meaning for us. “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby you are sealed unto the day of redemption” [Ephesians 4:30]. The word “grieve” itself, “to make sorrowful,” just the use of the word itself places the appeal into an altogether different category. Had the apostle said, “Anger not the Spirit, do not make Him furiously mad,” you’re in a different world using language like that. Anger begets anger; there’s always the spirit of retaliation in anger. Any time anger appears in any of God’s children it is a weakness, it is a cutting down on the part of Satan. Anger is in another world. But grief and sorrow speak of different things. And the word here “grieve not,” “grieve,” the Greek word for “sorrow” is lupē; and “to make sorrowful,” lupeō. In the life of our Lord, as He spoke to His disciples about His coming passion, His suffering and death, the Lord said to them, “Because I have told you these things, lupē, sorrow hath filled your heart” [John 16:6]. When He was in Gethsemane, after His agonizing prayer [Luke 22:42-44], He came, and the Scriptures say, “He found the disciples sleeping for sorrow” [Luke 22:45].
Now the verbal form of that substantive, lupeō, “to be grieved, to make sorrowful”: when the rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked what, that he might inherit eternal life, when the Lord told him what to do, that his riches stood between him and God, he loved money more than he loved the Lord, and the Lord asked him to give it up and to follow after Him [Mark 10:17-21], “the young man went away lupeō, grieved, hurt” [Mark 10:22]. He lost the battle; but he felt it when he lost it. He sorrowed over it. No wonder Jesus, looking upon the young man, loved him [Mark 10:21]. He was a fine, sensitive, moral, upstanding young man.
Or take just once again, when the Lord asked Simon Peter, “Do you love Me, really?” Simon Peter said, “Yes, Lord, You know I love You.” And when He asked him the third time, “Simon, do you love Me, really?” then the Scriptures say, “And Simon Peter lupeō,” there is that word again, “he was grieved because the Lord said the third time, Do you love Me?” [John 21:15-17].
Now that is the word that is used here: “Grieve not the Holy Spirit” [Ephesians 4:30]. So it speaks first of the personality of the Holy Spirit. He is not a law, or a force, or a motion; the very word that is used speaks of someone who can be hurt. You couldn’t hurt a law, or grieve a force; they’re impersonal. So the text speaks of the Holy Spirit as someone who can be touched and moved, who can feel, who can be made sorrowful, agrieved.
One of the translations in the Holy Scriptures sometimes gives us the idea that the Holy Spirit is an “it.” For example, in the King James Version—out of which I always preach—in the eighth chapter of Romans, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” [Romans 8:16]. And then again in that same chapter, “For the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us” [Romans 8:26]. So reading that, it sort of confirms our inward reaction, studying the Spirit, that we’re studying an “it,” a force, a law, a motion. Well, the reason for that in the Bible is very, very plain. In the English language, all of our genders are natural. This is a “he,” and this is a “she,” and this is a neuter gender, it is an “it”; now that’s English. But other languages are not built like that. There are languages that have grammatical gender. German is an instance.
For example, “Das [mädchen],” the word for “girl” in German is neuter. That’s the beatenest thing you ever saw in your life. Not a “she”; she’s an “it” in German. It’s not “de [mädchen],” feminine, or “der [mädchen],” it’s “das,” neuter. Well, that’s because the language has grammatical gender; it doesn’t go according to natural gender. Now Greek is that way. Greek has grammatical gender, and not natural gender. So when a word is used, it can be any gender in the Greek language, grammatically.
Now in the Greek language, pneuma, “spirit” is neuter: pneuma, ta pneuma, not he pneuma, feminine, or ho pneuma, masculine, but ta pneuma, neuter. And the Bible happened to translate in that one passage according to that grammatical gender. But that is a, oh! an unimaginable error. “The Holy Spirit Himself maketh intercession for us [Romans 8:26]. The Holy Spirit Himself witnesses with us that we are the children of God” [Romans 8:16]. The Holy Spirit is a person; as God is a person. And being a person, He feels, and can be grieved.
This speaks of the Spirit of God, of the presence of the Lord, in a way that is precious: “grieving Him” [Ephesians 4:30], the symbolism back of the use of the word speaks of a compound made by an apothecary in heaven. It has in it the myrrh of bitterness, but it also has in it the sweetness of frankincense. It’s only somebody that loves you that you can grieve, that you can make sorrowful; such as your mother, or your father, or your wife, or your husband, or your children, or your sweet and precious friend. It’s only somebody like that that you can grieve.
Now, that leads us to speak of the attributes of the Holy Spirit, of the person of God that would make Him subject to grief from us, to be made sorrowful by us. What are those attributes of the Holy Spirit that make Him liable to grief or sorrow, just as you? Whenever you open your heart to somebody to love him or to love her, that minute you open your heart to indescribable and abysmal tears and sorrow and grief. They are concomitants, they are accompaniments, they are the other side of that coin. They are together. Now the Holy Spirit is that way; that is, He loves us. When you speak of the love of the Father and when you speak of the love of the Son, you also speak of the love of the Spirit. That’s why He opens Himself to being grieved, to being hurt, to being made sorrowful: He loves us, and He is sensitive to us.
Oh, if we had time we could just devote the whole day to speak of how the Holy Spirit broods over us, and loves us, encourages us, moves us God-ward. When you were a little child you were made sensitive to the presence of God. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit. When you were conscience-stricken, you became conscious of sin, that’s the work of the Holy Spirit. When the atoning grace of Jesus was laid before you, and you were pointed to the Lord dying for your sins on the cross, that was the work of the Holy Spirit. He opens our blind eyes to see the Lord. He opens our deaf ears to hear the voice of the Lord. And He opens our closed and frozen and palsied hands and hearts to receive the blessedness of Jesus. All through our lives this is the precious ministry of love and care of the Holy Spirit [John 16:7-15].
I love that song, it is a prayer to the Holy Spirit:
Open my eyes, that I may see
Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me;
Place in my hands the wonderful key
That shall unclasp and set me free:
Silently now I wait for Thee,
Ready my God, Thy will to see,
Open my eyes, illumine me,
So the course of those stanzas:
Open my ears, that I may hear
Voices of truth Thou sendest clear;
And while the wave notes fall on my ear,
Everything false will disappear.
Silently now I wait for Thee,
Ready my God, Thy will to see,
Open my ears, illumine me,
[“Open My Eyes, That I May See,” Clara H. Scott]
The attributes of the Spirit: loving us, and guiding us to the blessed Jesus [John 16:7-15].
The attributes of the Holy Spirit: helping us, encouraging us, comforting us. Paul writes of it, “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities” [Romans 8:26]. He reaches down from heaven to bind up our broken hearts. He stands by us in trial. And He gives us strength for our weaknesses, and He comforts us in our sicknesses and our sorrows. “The Spirit helpeth our infirmities.” That’s why the Lord, when He went away, called the Spirit the parakaleō, the “Paraclete,” the One called alongside, the Paraclete. He is the Comforter [John 16:7]. He stands with us, He encourages us; “The Spirit helpeth our infirmities” [Romans 8:26].
Not only that, in the same verse the apostle says, “We do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself maketh intercession for us. And He that searcheth the hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because He pleads for us according to the will of God” [Romans 8:26-27]. Have you ever been to the place in your life when you didn’t know how to frame the words to say it, or put the sentence together to offer it before the throne of grace? Sometimes agony is too deep for words, and sorrow is too deep for tears, and you just stood before the Lord. “The Spirit Himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” [Romans 8:26]; just can’t place in syllable, or sentence, or nomenclature, or language, or words the deep longing and aspirations of the heart. But the Spirit prays for us. He takes our feelings, and our desires, and our supplications, and our intercessions, and He lays them before the throne of grace; He speaks heaven’s language. He knows the word, and we don’t.
Not only that, but the apostle says that “the Spirit Himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God [Romans 8:16], and the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you, and shall quicken your mortal bodies by the Spirit that dwelleth in you” [Romans 8:11]. Why, that’s almost unbelievable as I think of it. He whom the whole heavens cannot contain [2 Chronicles 2:6], dwells fully in this house of clay [1 Corinthians 6:19-20]. And wherever you are, all of God is there in your heart. And if you’re on the other side of the world, wherever you are, there all of God is in your heart. It’s just one of the most astonishing, phenomenal revelations that one could imagine. How is it that all of God can be there, and all of God can be yonder, and all of God can be there? I do not know. But the Spirit of God dwells fully and brings all of God into our hearts. And there He lives in us [1 Corinthians 6:19-20].
Then the apostle says when we die it is the Spirit of God that quickens us from the dead [Romans 8:11], that raises us from the dead. That’s what the Spirit of God did for Jesus. When the Lord died and was buried [Matthew 27:32-61], He was raised by the Holy Spirit [Matthew 28:5-7; Romans 1:4]. I don’t suppose you could bury God, could you? Even putting a seal and a guard upon Him would not keep God dead [Matthew 27:66]. I suppose it’s the same kind of a thing with us: the Spirit of the Lord dwells in this house [1 Corinthians 6:19], in this temple, and when this house decays, the Spirit of the Lord recreates it and raises it up from the dead. That’s what the apostle says. “The Spirit of the Lord that dwells in you shall quicken your mortal bodies” [Romans 8:11]. This is God’s house, and God intends to perfect it.
Not only that but the Scripture says in this text, that, “The Holy Spirit seals us unto the day of redemption” [Ephesians 4:30]. That sphragis, the signet ring, and on the ring, the king had it on his hand, was the seal; and the sign of a real message from the king was the stamp of that seal, the signet ring, the sphragis. Well, that sphragizō, “to seal,” when Jeremiah bought from Hanameel the inheritance there at Anathoth where the priests lived, he made two documents. One was open, where everybody could see it, that this he had bought, it belonged to Jeremiah; then the other document was sealed and placed in the archives for all future generations [Jeremiah 32:7-14]. Now that sealing is also done by the Holy Spirit in us [Ephesians 4:30]. He is the guardian and the custodian of our eternal salvation and our heavenly destiny. And it is two ways He seals us. It is an open sealing, it is an open step. Here is the document, and here is the seal. This is the sign that this soul belongs to the Lord; it is an open thing that everybody can read. And can’t you see that out here in the world? These who are saved, that are born again, you can tell it; the seal of the Holy Spirit is upon them. And can’t you tell it also when they have not the seal of the Holy Spirit? They are worldly, they live out there in the world, they are not regenerated, they are not saved, they are not born again. But no matter where that child of God is, he has that seal upon him, and it is apparent.
Then the other part is up there in the archives of heaven. God has our names written, and it’s put away up there in glory against the day of redemption [Luke 10:20]; that is the final consummation when these bodies are raised from the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17], the full purchased possession, soul and body [Ephesians 1:14]. We are sealed [Ephesians 4:30]. Ah, what a comfort that is! that God has me and has saved me, and has regenerated me, and has written my name in the archives of heaven [Luke 10:20], and it is sealed by His Holy Spirit [Ephesians 4:30]. How do I know that the document is not a fraud? How do I know but that master deceit, that scribe and penman from hell called master presumption and carnal security, how do I know the documents are not from him? Because I have the seal of the Spirit [Ephesians 4:30]. And part of it is open, and you can see, and I can see it [Ephesians 4:30]; and part of it is up there in glory [Luke 10:20]: the seal of possession.
Why, men do that here in this life: they put their trademark on what they make. They put their brand on the cattle that belongs to them. This is God’s property, and the Holy Spirit seals us openly and secretly. We belong to the Lord against the day of redemption; that is, until Jesus comes again [Ephesians 4:30]. That day of redemption refers to the redemption of our bodies [Romans 8:23]. We’re not complete; God’s Word and promise and the atoning grace of Christ is not full affectation, it does not reach its consummation until the body is raised from the dead, and in a new and glorified body our regenerated spirits have their eternal home. That’s why Paul refers to “the house not made with hands in heaven” [2 Corinthians 5:1]: he’s not talking about a mansion in the sky, he’s talking about the house we live in, this house, this body. And that is the work of the Holy Spirit. We’re not going to fail of it; it is our assurance of perseverance, it’s the doctrine of predestination [Romans 8:29], if you’d like to call it—it’s the doctrine of election [Romans 8:30], if you’d like to say it; the elect of God will not fail of heaven [John 6:37]. And those who have gone to Jesus in true faith and trust [Ephesians 2:8] shall enter the gates of glory some day because the Holy Spirit has sealed them unto that day of redemption [Ephesians 4:30].
Now in the moment that remains, who grieves the Holy Spirit? “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God” [Ephesians 4:30]. Who grieves the Holy Spirit? The backsliding Christian grieves the Holy Spirit. Backsliding: we don’t pray anymore; we don’t read the Bible anymore, the leaves are stuck together; we don’t thank God anymore. And we live out there in the world, and the things of the world consume us. So when we pray, there’s not any answer. And when we read the Bible, there’s not any light. And when we go to church, it’s a bore. Backslidden, grieving the Holy Spirit: loving something else more than we love God. Giving our lives to other things than the Lord: a backslidden Christian, a worldly Christian grieving the Holy Spirit.
Who grieves the Holy Spirit? A dead church grieves the Holy Spirit. His Spirit flees from it, He leaves it. There’s no room for Him. The church is worldly. Its visions and its aims are all down here, just like a club, just like any other aggregate of men and women; a worldly church, a dead church. There are few converts. There has to be a warm matrix bathed in blood for children to be born. You don’t born children out there in refrigerators; children are born in a womb, bathed in blood, and nurtured by life itself. It is no different about spiritual rebirth. It has to come to pass, spiritual life must be born, it must come into existence in a church that is warm, that is bathed in tears. And a dead church can’t give birth to converts. And it grieves the Holy Spirit when the church is dead.
The prayer meetings dwindle off. People are not interested in praying, not interested in witnessing, not interested in outreach. “Why my soul, pastor, look at all these people you got down there. Why in the world are you interested in anything else? Why would you want to expand and extend the outreach of the church, don’t you have enough people?” Why, my brother, as long as there is somebody lost here in the reach of this appeal, we ought to try to win them, pray for them, love them, teach them the Word of God. And as long as there is a soul in the world outside of Jesus, we ought to be missionary. There is no circumference, there is no circle to be drawn and say, “We’re going to pray for these, and that’s all. And we’re going to try to reach these, and that’s all.” No, a church that is quickened and alive would have the same spirit in it that the Lord had: He loved the whole world [John 3:16-17; 1 John 2:2], and the whole world is in our loving, prayerful embrace. You don’t ever get to where you say, “Well, we’re not interested anymore. We’re not going to pray for them anymore. We’re not going to visit them anymore.” Oh, that grieves the Spirit of God.
Who grieves the Spirit of God? Not only the backslidden Christian and not only the dead church, but the soul that is invited to the Lord and rejects Jesus. Here I wish I had time to preach on the unpardonable sin. Isn’t it a strange thing? You can reject God the Father, curse Him to His face; you can reject God the Son, and blaspheme His name; but you reject and reject and reject the Holy Spirit, and there is forgiveness neither in this world nor in the world to come [Matthew 12:31-32]. I just can’t quite enter into that. I just read it in the Book. As those antediluvians, God said, “My Spirit shall not always strive with men” [Genesis 6:3], and He gave them a hundred twenty years and then destroyed them from the face of the earth [Genesis 7:7, 17-24]. As Esau, who sought repentance with tears, and was refused [Hebrews 12:16-17], oh dear, that such a thing could be frightens and terrifies my soul!
There is a time, I know not when,
A place I know not where,
That marks the destiny of men
To glory or despair.
There is a line by us unseen,
That crosses every path;
The hidden boundary between
God’s mercy and God’s wrath.
[“The Destiny of Men,” Joseph Addison Alexander ]
That’s in the Bible. There comes a time when a man is not going to be saved, he’s just not. Oh, it’s an awesome prospect! That’s why the Spirit always pleads, “Today,” always pleads, “Now.”
“Today if you hear His voice, harden not your heart” [Hebrews 3:15]. “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” [2 Corinthians 6:2]. Always the Spirit pleads, “Come now, trust now, believe now, accept now, respond now, do it now.”
And that’s our appeal to your heart. Does God call you? Does He? Does the Lord speak to you, does He? Does the Lord bid you come? Does He? If God speaks, and if the Spirit invites, answer with your life. “Oh, but pastor, I have such insuperable problems, and I have such indescribable trials. Pastor, you just don’t know.” But God knows, and the Spirit of God is strong to help. He sees us through. Trust Him for it. Do it. Make this hour an hour of commitment, or salvation, or response. In a moment we shall stand to sing, and as we sing, you, in the balcony round, on this lower floor, a couple, a family, or just you, while we sing this hymn of appeal, come; make it now. Do it now. Come now, while we stand and while we sing.