Pillar Journal

The Indwelling Spirit

The believer’s greatest encouragement in spiritual warfare is the abiding presence of the Spirit.

The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, meticulously edited with a 110- page memoir by Alexander Grosart, was published by James Nichol of Edinburgh in the 1860s and reprinted by the Banner of Truth Trust.1Cited throughout this chapter as Sibbes, Works. For an English translation of the concluding Latin sermon in volume 7, see Richard Sibbes, “Antidote against the Shipwreck of Faith and a Good Conscience,” Banner of Truth, no. 433 (Oct. 1999): 11–22, and no. 434 (Nov. 1999): 11–22. Sibbes’s most famous work, The Bruised Reed, which has done so much good in healing troubled souls, is now available in paperback from Banner of Truth Trust.2Cited throughout this chapter as Sibbes, Works. For an English translation of the concluding Latin sermon in volume 7, see Richard Sibbes, “Antidote against the Shipwreck of Faith and a Good Conscience,” Banner of Truth, no. 433 (Oct. 1999): 11–22, and no. 434 (Nov. 1999): 11–22.

Let us turn now to Sibbes’s teaching on the entertainment of the Spirit.

The Indwelling Spirit

The Spirit’s indwelling is requisite to entertaining Him, Sibbes said. He taught that when the Spirit of God enters the heart of a sinner, regenerating him and persuading him of the truth of the gospel, the Spirit immediately begins to live within that person.3Sibbes, “A Fountain Sealed,” in Works, 5:413–14; “Divine Meditations and Holy Contemplations,” in Works, 7:199–200. The Spirit does not draw attention to Himself, however. Rather, the Spirit works to knit our hearts to God and to Jesus Christ. Sibbes wrote:

He [the Spirit] sanctifieth and purifieth, and doth all from the Father and the Son, and knits us to the Father and the Son; to the Son first, and then to the Father…because all the communion we have with God is by the Holy Ghost. All the communion that Christ as man had with God was by the Holy Ghost; and all the communion that God hath with us, and we with God is by the Holy Ghost. For the Spirit is the bond of union between Christ and us, and between God and us.4Sibbes, “A Description of Christ,” in Works, 1:17.

While the Father and Son perform no work without the Spirit, the Spirit also does no work apart from the Father and the Son. Sibbes explained: “As the Spirit comes from God the Father and the Son, so it carries us back again to the Father and the Son. As it comes from heaven, so it carries us to heaven back again.”5Sibbes, “The Church’s Echo,” in Works, 7:545. The role of the Spirit is to introduce and intimately acquaint us with the Father and the Son.

Thus, if we are believers, the Spirit establishes communion between us and the other two Persons of the Trinity. It is as if He captures us and lifts us up to know the Father and the Son’s love for us. The Holy Spirit lifts us to see by faith the crucified and resurrected Jesus seated in glory. That is why the Spirit comes, and that is how He functions in our lives. Therefore, we may say that while, in one sense, fellowship between us and God is reestablished once and for all, yet in another sense the Spirit maintains and increases that fellowship during our entire lives.

Sibbes said that as the Spirit draws us to the Father and the Son, He confirms His government in our hearts. This government is not at odds with the Spirit’s purpose of revealing the things of Christ to us; rather, His internal governing reveals Jesus Christ seated on the throne of grace. Indeed, the Spirit helps us conform to the character and behavior of Christ. The Spirit lives in us to restore and transform our souls, and ripens us for glory. Submitting to the Spirit is thus critical, Sibbes said. In A Fountain Sealed, he wrote:

Let us give up the government of our souls to the Spirit. It is for our safety so to do, as being wiser than ourselves who are unable to direct our own way. It is our liberty to be under a wisdom and goodness larger than our own. Let the Spirit think in us, desire in us, pray in us, live in us, do all in us; labor ever to be in such a frame as we may be fit for the Spirit to work upon.6Sibbes, “A Fountain Sealed,” in Works, 5:426.

The believer is like a “musical instrument,” tuned and played by the Spirit. Therefore, Sibbes wrote, “Let us lay ourselves open to the Spirit’s touch.”7Sibbes, “A Fountain Sealed,” in Works, 5:426. When the Spirit has ruling sway in our lives, He fine-tunes our souls much like a musical instrument, and then He plays our lives as a piano concerto before God.

Sibbes described this process of tuning and the touch of the Holy Spirit: “He must rule. He will have the keys delivered to him; we must submit to his government. And when he is in the heart, he will subdue by little and little all high thoughts, rebellious risings, and despairing fears.”8Sibbes, “A Fountain Sealed,” in Works, 5:431.

How may we know that we have this blessed, indwelling, governing Spirit? Sibbes said, “By living and moving, by actions vital, etc. even so may a man know he hath the Spirit of God by those actions that come only from the Spirit, which is to the soul, as the soul is to the body…every saving grace is a sign that the Spirit is in us.”9Sibbes, “Exposition of 2 Corinthians Chapter 1,” in Works, 3:478. Wherever the indwelling Spirit is, He gradually transforms the soul to be holy and gracious like Himself. The government of the Spirit is not realized immediately. The revolution and overthrow of our old nature comes upon regeneration, while the government of the Spirit is established only in a process so that we may learn more of and abide more to the constitution of our new life in Jesus Christ.

Restored communion with God the Father and the Son by means of the government of the Spirit cannot but produce spiritual warfare. The transformation that the Holy Spirit effects in the believer is accompanied by external and internal struggle. Externally, we face the powers of darkness, even the prince of darkness himself, Sibbes warned, because the devil is profoundly envious of the man who walks in the Spirit.10Sibbes, “Exposition of 2 Corinthians Chapter 1,” in Works, 3:478. Satan will do all within his power to destroy the comfort of that man.

Indeed, all spiritual graces meet with conflict, Sibbes said, “for what is true, is met with a great deal of resistance of that which is counterfeit.”11Sibbes, “Exposition of 2 Corinthians Chapter 1,” in Works, 3:478. What is of the Spirit is always in conflict with what is not of the Spirit. Internally, our fleshly desires are continually at war with the Spirit, for when the Spirit comes to a person, He pulls down all strongholds. He carves out a path for Himself in the thick of battle.

Our souls are the battlefield upon which the Spirit marches, and He will have the final victory, Sibbes said. For wherever the Spirit dwells, He also rules, for He will not be an underling to lusts. He repairs the breaches of the soul. In this battle, we must submit to the Spirit in all things, however, for only then will we experience the victorious life that is the inheritance of believers in Jesus Christ. To be sure, the greatest battles were won on Calvary and in our hearts when we were brought to new birth, but we must also fight daily battles in our lives of sanctification. Our ever-present foes— our flesh, the world, and the devil—unceasingly strive to tear up the foundation upon which we stand as children of the Most High.

Sibbes said that we must show that we treasure the indwelling power of the Spirit. We cannot value God’s love and holiness granted to us in the Spirit without exercising self-denial. Life in the Spirit, while beginning at regeneration, must continue to bear fruit for the rest of the believer’s life. As Sibbes wrote, “As we may know who dwells in a house by observing who goes in and them that come out, so we may know that the Spirit dwells in us by observing what sanctified speeches he sends forth, and what delight he hath wrought in us to things that are special, and what price we set upon them.”12Sibbes, “Divine Meditations and Holy Contemplations,” in Works, 7:199.

The believer’s greatest encouragement in spiritual warfare is the abiding presence of the Spirit. The Spirit is the leader and enabler of our souls. Sibbes wrote, “If we be sound Christians, the Spirit of God will enable us to do all things, evangelically, that we are called unto.”13Sibbes, “The Soul’s Conflict with Itself,” in Works, 1:188. He said, “Therefore let us have an high esteem of the Holy Spirit, of the motions of it, and out of an high esteem in our hearts beg of God the guidance of the Spirit, that he would lead us by his Spirit, and subdue our corruptions, that we may not be led by our own lusts.”14Sibbes, “A Description of Christ,” in Works, 1:26. It is through what Sibbes termed “the motions,” or “holy stirrings of the Spirit,” that the Spirit enables us to overcome the sin that attacks us internally and the forces of darkness set against us externally.15Sibbes, “The Ungodly’s Misery,” in Works, 1:392. The Spirit of Christ is powerful and strong. Through His indwelling, we are able “to perform duties above nature, to overcome ourselves and injuries,” Sibbes said.16Sibbes, “A Description of Christ,” in Works, 1:22. The Spirit, he added, will “make us to be able to live and die, as it enabled Christ to do things that another man could not do.”17Sibbes, “A Description of Christ,” in Works, 1:22.

Sibbes’s conclusion was inevitable: “Where there is no conflict, there is no Spirit of Christ at all.”18Sibbes, “A Description of Christ,” in Works, 1:22. In this he echoed the apostle Paul’s teaching that if we mortify the deeds of the flesh by the Spirit, we are led by the Spirit (Rom. 8:13). We, then, by grace, entertain the Spirit. We befriend and show hospitality to that Spirit who gives us the victory over all enemies by faith (1 John 5:4).

But the Spirit does more than indwell the believer and give victory in spiritual warfare. He is also the sealer of our souls.

Excerpt from
The Beauty and Glory of the Holy Spirit
Edited by Joel R. Beeke and Joseph A. Pipa

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The essays in The Beauty and Glory of the Holy Spirit both exalt and revel in the third person of the Trinity.

Through an assortment of studies – categorized according to their biblical, doctrinal, historical, or pastoral focus – this book sets before readers the inestimable ministry of the blessed Holy Spirit.

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Table of Contents:

Biblical Studies

1. The Old Testament Pentecost — David Murray

2. The Father’s Gift of the Spirit — Geoffrey Thomas

3. How the Holy Spirit Is Another Comforter — John P. Thackway

4. The Ministry of the Spirit in Glorifying Christ — Malcolm H. Watts

5. Precursors to Pentecost — Gerald Bilkes

6. The Outpouring of the Spirit: Anticipated, Attained, Available — Michael Barrett

7. The Cessation of the Extraordinary Spiritual Gifts — George W. Knight III

8. The Supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ — John P. Thackway

Doctrinal Studies

9. The Person of the Holy Spirit — Morton H. Smith

10. The Love of the Holy Spirit — Geoffrey Thomas

11. Regeneration and Sanctification — Ian Hamilton

12. The Sealing and Witnessing Work of the Holy Spirit — William Shishko

13. The Ordinary and Extraordinary Witness of the Spirit — Malcolm H. Watts

Historical Theological Studies

14. The Holy Spirit in the Early Church — William VanDoodewaard 

15. Richard Sibbes on Entertaining the Holy Spirit — Joel R. Beeke

16. The Holy Spirit in the Westminster Standards – Joseph Morecraft III

17. John Owen on the Holy Spirit in Relation to the Trinity, the Humanity of Christ, and the Believer — Ryan M. McGraw

18. The Holy Spirit and Revival — John Carrick

Pastoral Study 

19. The Holy Spirit and the Unique Power of Preaching — Joseph A. Pipa


The King James Version: Its Tradition, Text, and Translation — Michael Barrett 



Joel R. Beeke (PhD, Westminster Seminary) is president and professor of systematic theology and homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary; a pastor of the Heritage Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan; editor of Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth; editorial director of Reformation Heritage Books; and a prolific author.