Common Operations of the Spirit

“Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word (Mat. 22:14), and may have some common operations of the Spirit (Mat. 7:22; 13:20-21; Heb. 6:4-5), yet they never truly come unto Christ, and therefore cannot be saved (John 6:64-66; 8:24): much less can men, not professing the Christian religion, be saved in any other way whatsoever, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature and the law of that religion they do profess (John 4:22; 14:6; 17:3; Acts 4:12; Eph. 2:12); and to assert and maintain that they may is very pernicious, and to be detested (1 Cor. 16:22; Gal. 1:6-8; 2 John 1:9-11).” (Westminster Confession of Faith 10.4).

William Perkins
Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed
Works V, pp. 309-311

The benefits given by the Holy Ghost, common to all men, are diverse.

1. The gift of practicing a particular calling.

As in the body several members have several uses, so in every society several men have several offices and callings; and the gifts whereby they are enabled to perform the duties thereof are from the Holy Ghost. When Gideon became a valiant captain to deliver the Israelites, it is said he “was clothed with the spirit” (Judges 6:34). Bezaleel and Aholiab, being set apart to build the tabernacle, were filled with the Spirit of God in wisdom and understanding and in all workmanship to find out curious works, to work in gold and in silver and in brass, also in the art to set stones and to carve in timber, etc. (Ex. 31:3). By this it is manifest that the skill of any handicraft is not in the power of man, but comes by the Holy Ghost. And by this we are taught to use all those gifts well whereby we are enabled to discharge our particular callings, that they may serve for the glory of God and the good of His church. And those that in their callings use fraud and deceit or else live inordinately do most unthankfully abuse the gifts of God and dishonor the Spirit of God, the author of their gifts, for which thing they must give an account one day.

2. Illumination of God’s Will.

The second gift common to all is illumination, whereby a man is enabled to understand the will of God in His Word (Heb. 6:4). The “Jews in the reading of the Old Testament had a veil over their hearts,” and the like have all men by nature, to whom the Word of God is foolishness. “Paul at his conversion was smitten blind, and scales were upon his eyes” (Acts 9:17-18)—the like also be over the eyes of our minds, and they must fall away before we can understand the will of God. Now, it is the work of the Holy Ghost to remove these scales and films from our eyes. And for this very cause He is called the anointing and eye salve; for as it does clear the eyes and take away the dimness of them (1 John 2:20; Rev. 3:18), so does the Holy Ghost take away blindness from our minds that we may see into the truth of God’s Word. This being a common gift and received both of good and bad, it stands us in hand not to content ourselves with the bare knowledge of the Word, but therewithal we must join obedience and make conscience thereof; or else that will befall us which Christ foretold, that he which knows his master’s will and does it not shall be beaten with many stripes (Luke 12:47).

3. Interpretation and expounding of Scripture.

The third gift of the Holy Ghost is the gift of prophecy, whereby a man is made able to interpret and expound the Scriptures (1 Cor. 12:10). Now, albeit this gift be very excellent and not given to every man, yet is it common both to good and bad. For in the day of judgment when men shall come to Christ and say, “Master, we have prophesied in thy name,” He shall answer again, “I never knew you, depart from me ye workers of iniquity” (Matt. 7:22-23). Hereupon those that are in the calling of the ministry and have received the gift of prophecy must not here withal be puffed up. For if they be not as well doers of God’s will as teachers, their gifts will turn to their further condemnation. As the carpenters that built Noah’s ark when the flood came were drowned because they would not obey Noah’s preaching, so those that have the gift of prophecy and are builders in God’s house—if they build not themselves as well as others, for all their preaching, at the day of judgment they shall be condemned. And therefore it stands them in hand not to content themselves with this, that they know and teach others God’s will, but they themselves must be the first doers of the same.

4. Restraining sinful affections.

The fourth common gift of the Holy Ghost is ability to bridle and restrain for some affections so as they shall not break out into outrageous behavior. Haman, a wicked man and an enemy to God’s church, when he saw Mordecai the Jew sitting in the king’s gate and that he would not stand up to move unto him, he was full of indignation. Nevertheless, the text says that “he refrained himself” (Esther 5:10). And when Abimelech, a heathen king, had taken Sarah, Abraham’s wife, God said unto him, “I know that thou didst this with an upright heart” (Gen. 20:6). And the text adds further, “I have kept thee that thou shouldest not sin against me.” And thus the Lord gives to men as yet without the Spirit of sanctification this gift to bridle themselves, so as in outward action they shall not practice this or that sin. For why did not Abimelech commit adultery? Surely, because God kept him from it. Again, in the histories of the heathen we may read of many that were just, liberal, meek, continent, etc., and that by a general operation of the Holy Ghost, that represses the corruption of nature for the common good. Here then, if any man ask how it comes to pass that some men are more modest and civil than others, seeing all men by nature are equally wicked, the answer may be, not as the common saying is—because some are of better nature than others (for all the sons of Adam are equal in regard of nature; the child newborn in that respect is as wicked as the oldest man that ever lived)—but the reason is because God gives this common gift of restraining the affections more to some than to others. This must be considered of us all. For a man may have the Spirit of God to bridle many sins and yet never have the Spirit to mortify the same and to make him a new creature. And this being so, we must take heed that we deceive not ourselves. For it is not sufficient for a man to live in outward civility and to keep in some of his affections upon some occasion (for a wicked man may do), but we must further labor to feel in ourselves the Spirit of God not only bridling sin in us but also mortifying and killing the same. Indeed, both of them are the good gifts of God’s Spirit, but yet the mortification of sin is the chiefest, being an effectual sign of grace and proper to the elect.

5. Receiving the Word with joy.

The fifth grace and gift of the Holy Ghost is to hear and receive the word of God with joy. In the parable of the sower, one kind of bad ground are they “which when they have heard, receive the word with joy” (Luke 8:13); and this is that which the author of the Hebrews calls “the tasting of the good word of God, and of the power of the world to come” (Luke 6:5). We know that there is great difference between tasting of meat and eating of it. They that sit down at the table do both taste and eat, but they that dress the meat do only see and taste thereof. So it is at the Lord’s Table. Many there be that have this gift truly both to taste and eat of the body and blood of Christ offered in the word and sacraments. And some again do only taste and feel the sweetness of them and rejoice therein, but yet are not indeed partakers thereof. Now if this be so, then all those which hear the word of God must take heed how they hear and labor to find these two things in themselves by hearing: (1) that in heart and conscience they be thoroughly touched and humbled for their sins; (2) that they be certainly assured of the favor and love of God in Christ and that the sweet promises of the gospel do belong to them. And in consideration hereof they must make a conscience of all sin both in thought, word, and deed through the whole course of their lives. And this kind of hearing brings that joy which vanishes not away.

Thus much of the benefits of the Holy Ghost common to all men both good and bad.


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