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Home School of Divinity The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit - Text

The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit - Text

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THE DOCTRINE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

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Donald McCleod

 

THE Doctrine of the Trinity is fundamental in the Christian Church. It is the very essence of Christianity. As Dr. Smeaton points out, all true theologians have uniformly accepted it as their highest function simply to conserve the mystery and to leave it where they found it, in its inscrutable sublimity, "dark though excessive bright".' Thus, in this paper I shall but be endeavour­ing in some small measure to exhibit, from the Holy Scriptures, the personality and work of the Holy Spirit, and briefly examining how this doctrine has been received within the professing Church since biblical times.

 

"For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one" (1 John v. 7). "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in *the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (Matt. xxviii. 19). We can therefore at once demonstrate to the most incredulous that there are three Persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and equally, we can go on to demonstrate—always assuming, of course, that the person is prepared to assent, in a natural way, to the authoritative nature of the Scriptures from Genesis to the Revelation—that "these three are one true, eternal God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory; although distinguished by their personal properties" ,2 and that the Holy Ghost proceeded from the Father and the Son from all eternity. "It is not more evident that the Father is God, than that the Son is God; nor is the deity of the Father and Son more clearly revealed than that of the Holy Spirit".' The erroneous view that the terms, Father, Son, and Spirit, express different relations of God to His creatures, is to be guarded against. That one divine Being subsists in three distinct Persons, Father, Son, and Spirit is to be stressed, in demonstration of which it may be pointed out that the Father says "I", and the Son says "I", and the Holy Spirit says "I"; also that the Father says "Thou" to the Son, the Son says "Thou" to the Father, and the Father and the Son use the Pronouns "He" and "Him" in reference to the Spirit. Equally it must be pointed out that there is a subordina­tion of the Persons in the Trinity, as to their mode of subsistence and operation. The Father is first, the Son is second and the Spirit third. The Son is of the Father, and the Spirit is of the Father and the Son. The Father sends the Son, and the Father and Son send the Spirit. The Father operates through the Son, and the Father and Son operate through the Spirit.

 

Further, according to the Word of God, the Father created the world, the Son created the world and the Spirit created the world, while it is also revealed that the Father preserves all things, the Son upholds all things, and the Spirit is the source of all life. Then some acts are predominantly referred to the Father, others to the Son, and others to the Spirit. The Father elects, the Son redeems, and the Spirit sanctifies. On the other hand, certain acts or conditions are predicated of one of the Persons of the Trinity and never of either of the other Persons. Generation belongs exclusively to the Father, filiation to the Son and procession to the Holy Spirit.

 

Now we may think more particularly of the Third Person of the ever-adorable Trinity. He is eternal, omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient. He is the author of the new birth. The testi­mony of the Son is that, "except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John iii. 5, 6). Christ, through the Eternal Spirit, offered Himself without spot to God.

 

Let us, then, firstly consider the office of the Holy Spirit in the work of Redemption (a) with respect to the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ, and (b) with respect to the members of His mystical body.

 

  1. A.With respect to the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ.

 

The Scriptures teach us that the formation and miraculous conception of the body of Christ in the womb of the Virgin Mary was the peculiar work of the Holy Spirit. He fashioned the body and endued the soul of Christ with every qualification for His work. "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God" (Luke i. 35). The relation between the Person of the Spirit and the human nature of Christ was that of Creator to the created, and thus although the forming of the body of Christ was effected by an act of infinite power, yet it was made of the substance of the Virgin. He was of the seed of David, according to the flesh—He was a partaker of our nature, yet without sin. His human nature, being miraculously formed, was sanctified from its conception, and being not begotten by natural generation, derived no taint of original sin from Adam. Besides, the Holy Spirit endowed the human nature of Christ with all grace: "There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of His roots: and the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord; and shall make Him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord" (Isa. xi. 1, 2, 3).

 

The Holy Spirit continued to work in the man, Christ Jesus. The Spirit descended like a dove, and rested on Him at His baptism, and we are told that the Spirit was given to Him without measure. By the power of the Holy Spirit He wrought miracles, and by the Holy Spirit He was directed, comforted and supported throughout His sojourn in this world. Finally, as we remarked, He offered Himself up to God, through the eternal Spirit. He, moved and animated by the Holy Ghost, offered Himself without spot as an atoning sacrifice. Thus He was put to death in the flesh but saw no corruption. He was raised from the dead by the Holy Ghost. "If the Spirit of Him that raised up Christ from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies" (Romans viii. 11). It is "according to the Spirit of holiness", or the Holy Spirit, that Christ is "declared to be the Son of God with power, by the resurrection from the dead". The Holy Spirit also glorified the human nature of Christ in making it meet for its place at God's right hand for evermore. "Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, He hash shed forth this, which ye now see and hear" (Acts ii. 33). We have thus the supply of the Spirit, as an ascen­sion gift, described by Peter.

 

  1. B.With respect to the members of His mystical body.

 

 

We are to refer to the work of the Holy Spirit, in His gracious operations on the elect of God, the members of the mystical body of Christ. He has undertaken to regenerate, sanc­tify and glorify all the elect. It is His special work to apply the benefits procured by Christ, to all those for whom they have been purchased. He enables all such to believe in Christ. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour" (Titus iii. 5, 6). "In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also, after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of His glory"

(Eph 1 : 13, 14).

 

The Second Person of the Trinity had fulfilled all that He had undertaken to do in His own Person, and the finishing of that work in respect to all who shall be heirs of salvation belongs to God, the Holy Spirit. From His incarnation Christ possessed the fulness of the Spirit, and on His baptism, at the commencement of His public ministry, there was a supreme manifestation of this in the visible descent of the Spirit. This was an eloquent testi­mony to all that He was indeed the promised Messiah, the anointed of the Lord, and that He was unquestionably fitted for all the functions of His mediatorial work.

 

As Dr. Smeaton points out, "The Holy Spirit, which framed the Redeemer's mind as well as body, perpetually rested upon Him during all His earthly sojourn, imparting to Him the full consciousness of His Sonship in the highest sense, and prompting Him to execute the mediatorial work imposed upon Him".' So, also, on Christ's ascension to the right hand of power, it is written that "He received the promise of the Holy Ghost" on behalf of His people. He was now to bestow the gift of the Holy Spirit on His own. He had commanded His apostles to tarry at Jerusalem until they should be endued with power from on high. "Ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence . . . and ye shall be witnesses unto me . . . (Acts 1 ). Following upon this, is the record of the descent of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost. "And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts ii.).

 

On this very day Peter discoursed to the assembled multitude on the dispensation of the Spirit: "This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, He hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear" (Acts ii. 32, 33). He further showed what was necessary to salvation: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

 

 For .the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call" (vv. 38, 39). Thus the dispensation of the Spirit continues to the present hour and shall continue to the end of the world. The Holy Spirit communicates the truth as it is in Jesus. "He shall glorify Me: for He shall receive of Mine, and shall shew it unto you." The Holy Spirit is the author of faith in the soul; He is the immediate efficient cause of all gracious dealings; He it is who convinces of sin and misery, enlightens the mind in the knowledge of Christ, renews the will, and persuades and enables the soul to embrace Jesus Christ. Nor is He a mere instrument or servant; it is His will and pleasure to do all these things. His agency is sovereign and His way of working inscrutable. Therefore as well as acknowledging the love and kind­ness of the Father and of the Son in all the benefits of salvation, we must equally acknowledge the love and kindness of the Spirit—He is God, and "who hath resisted His will?". He can, when He pleases, break down all resistance, but without His power the creature cannot think one good thought, nor can he choose to do anything but what is evil. To sum up then, the work of the Spirit in the application of redemption is explained by the Son: "And when He is come, He will convince the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe not on Me; of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see Me no more; of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged" (John xvi. 8-11).

 

Dr. Owen remarks, "The work of the Holy Spirit in regenera­tion does not consist in enthusiastical raptures, ecstacies, voices, or anything of the like kind ... The Holy Spirit usually exerts His power in the use of means; and He works on men agreeably to their natures . . . His whole work is rationally to be accounted for by those who believe the Scriptures, and have received the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive".'

 

All who are adopted into the family of God are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. There are many passages of Scripture which affirm this. Christ, in comforting His disciples concerning His forth­coming departure from them, promised, "I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him: but ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you" (John xiv. 16, 17). The Apostle Paul reminds believers in Corinth, "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" (I Cor. iii. 16). Again, in writing to Timothy he says, "That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us" (II Tim. i. 14). Conversely, we are warned that if any man have not the Spirit of God he is none of His.

 

All growth in grace and holiness is attributable to the indwel­ling of the Holy Ghost, as also is the perseverance of the saints. But sanctification is not perfected until death, and therefore there is a continual warfare goino, on: "For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would" (Gal. v. 17). Victory however is assured; "For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace" (Rom. vi. 14). As the Westminster divines rendered it, "By His word and Spirit dwelling in them, the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified, and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of true holi­ness, without which no men shall see the Lord".'

 

Although the consideration of the continued presence and operation of the Spirit in the soul ought to encourage and vitalise the believer, yet it ought also to fill him with awe and godly fear. The Spirit of God is watching over him at all times, whether he is in the path of duty or in a state of backsliding, whether he is obedient or disobedient; he may even grieve the Spirit to withdraw from him for a time. How deeply then should he feel his many wanderings from the path of holiness and how ardently should he desire to walk more worthy of the high calling wherewith he has been called, and that his affections would be set more and more on the things which are above!

 

Certain aspects of the work of the Holy Spirit have as yet not been mentioned; others have of necessity, in a paper of this nature, only been touched upon, but some of them we should like to enlarge on a little further, in so far as we have ability.

 

The Inspiration of Scripture

 

THIS is of course a field in itself and therefore we only touch upon some of the salient points. All Scripture is given by inspira­tion of God, the Holy Spirit (II Tim. iii. 16): or, as the Apostle Peter tells us, "Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (II Peter i. 21). To be fully persuaded of this, however, the inward work of the Holy Spirit is essential. "For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God" (I Cor. ii. 11, 12). As the Westminster divines pointed out, "The supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of Councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture."'

 

Inspiration was a peculiar gift of the Spirit—the very word is derived from the nature and name of the Holy Spirit. It was a "breathing into" the writers so that they were enabled to write what they received without mistake. Thus David says, "The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and His word was in my tongue" (II Sam. xxiii. 2), and the Prophet Micah says, "Truly I am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord" (Micah iii. 8). With the closing of the canon of Scripture this special gift was no longer necessary. Man's spiritual needs have been amply provided for within "the volume of the book" and we have no warrant to expect any further extraordinary revelations. All such claims are spurious.

 

Creation

 

"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth", but the forming and perfecting of the heavens, the earth and all their hosts are assigned peculiarly to the Holy Spirit. "And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters." He it was who established order and breathed the breath of life into everything that lives. As we read in the Book of Job, "The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life." Man was made to be the temple of the Holy Ghost. "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness", which intimation sets forth the Trinity of Persons in the Godhead. "The beginning of divine operations is assigned to the Father, `for of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things'; the subsisting, establishing, and upholding of all things is ascribed to ll the Son, `for He is before all things, and by Him a things consist'; and the finishing of all these works is ascribed to the Holy Ghost."'

 

The Spirit continues the work of creation in providence. "Thou send forth Thy Spirit, they are created; and thou renews the race of the earth." A fresh succession or race arises by the power of the Spirit in place of what has decayed. Since the fall, how­ever, man's relationship to God has changed, and man in his natural state is no longer inhabited by the Spirit of God. Christ came to restore that which He took not away. In Him was the prophecy fulfilled, "I will pour My Spirit upon thy seed, and My blessing upon thine offspring" (Isa. xliv. 3). This authority to bestow the Spirit was given to the Son as the reward of His finished work.

 

His work as the Comforter

 

When the Saviour left this world, He promised that He would give another Comforter to His own : "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My Name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you" (John xiv. 26). He was to sus­tain and comfort the disciples in their sorrow, and He was to abide with the Church for ever, His work being to support, cherish, relieve and comfort her in all her tribulations. In this we see infinite condescension—God humbling Himself to behold things on the earth and to discharge such an office on behalf of poor worms of the dust. We also see His wondrous love—that love which passeth knowledge and which is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost. Almighty power is also manifested and believers are reminded, "Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world." Who can resist Omnipotence? "Ye have an unction from the Holy One" (1 John ii. 20). Or, in other words, Christ has anointed His own with the Holy Spirit. Thus an internal and effectual operation is carried out by virtue of this anointing, and the believer is made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light.

 

The work of the Holy Spirit in prayer

 

The Holy Ghost as the Spirit of prayer has been promised to all the household of faith. "I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications" (Zech. xii. 10). Thus He graciously inclines the heart to the duty of prayer, and He alone can make such worship accept­able. "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered" (Rom. viii. 26). "The Spirit helpeth our infirmities by enabling us to understand both for whom, and what, and how prayer is to be made; and by working and quickening in our hearts (although not in all persons, nor at all times in the same measure) those apprehensions, affections, and graces which are requisite for the right performance of that duty." 9

 

The Holy Spirit also gives the soul a holy delight in God, whereby they can cry, Abba, Father, drawing near to God as children to a father, while exercising faith in Christ as Mediator, for no man can come unto the Father but by Christ.

 

Commissioning of ministers

 

As in former times apostles and prophets were given for the edification of the Church, so now there are pastors and teachers raised up by God, "for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Eph. iv. 12). The ministry is a gift of Christ, and men are endowed with spiritual gifts and abilities for the discharge of the duties of the ministry. It is a special work of the Holy Spirit to provide able ministers of the New Testament. He fits them for their high calling and they are to be set apart to the office. "And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed" (Acts xiv. 23). "Whereunto I am appointed a preacher," says Paul, and again he says in his charge to Timothy, "Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery".

 

Again Paul says in writing to the Corinthians, "Our sufficiency is of God; who also bath made us able ministers of the New Testament". Christ has promised by His Spirit to be present with the Church unto the end of the world, and the Spirit is communicated by the ministration of the Gospel. The ministers of it are therefore ministers of the Spirit, possessing wisdom, knowledge and under­standing in the mysteries of the Gospel. They are given by the Spirit skill to divide the Word of God aright. They are to "study to show themselves approved unto God, workmen that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (II Tim. ii. 15). They have the gift of utterance, that is, not natural loquacity, but a freedom in declaring the Truth with all boldness and confidence. The Holy Spirit assists them in the duty of public prayer and in all other duties to which they are called. It belongs to them, too, to rule in the Church after a spiritual manner, not according to the wisdom of this world. For this, therefore, the peculiar gift of the Holy Spirit is also necessary—it being impossible to perform it after a godly sort without divine help.

 

Sin against the Holy Ghost

 

The nature of this sin has exercised the minds of the godly down through the centuries, but it is beyond dispute and unspeakably solemn that it is an unforgivable sin. Matthew, Mark and Luke all assert this. In Matthew xii. 32 it is recorded thus: "And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come". It is generally accepted that it is a sin unto death, which is wittingly committed against light. It is a malicious speaking against the work of the Holy Spirit.

 

Reception of this Doctrine within the Church at large since biblical times

 

In the early years after Christ, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit was not a matter of controversy. Errors regarding it did not gain a footing within the Church. Christians accepted the doc­trine, by their profession in baptism, and their concurrence in the Creed, which stated explicitly and simply, "I believe on the Holy Ghost." The famous oath of Clement of Rome stated, "As God lives, and the Lord Jesus Christ lives, and the Holy Spirit, who are at once the faith and hope of the elect".

 

The first notable controversy arose at the beginning of the 4th century, when Arius of Alexandria and his followers promulgated a theory that the Spirit was created by the Son. Controversy became so strong that two Councils were called to affirm the Scriptural doctrine. The Council of Nicaea met in A.D. 325, and the Council of Constan­tinople met in A.D. 381. Both framed scriptural statements on the doctrine, that of the latter stating, ". .. I believe in the Holy Ghost, the divine, the life-giving, who proceedeth from the Father, who is to be worshipped and glorified with the Father and the Son, and who spake through the prophets."

 

The second great controversy was connected with the doctrine of the Procession of the Holy Spirit. From the study of Scrip­ture the early fathers, e.g. Epiphanies, Athanasius and Augustine had testified that the Spirit proceeded from the Father and from the Son from all eternity. The Son is from the Father alone and is therefore referred to in the Scripture as the Only-begotten of the Father, whereas the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father, and the Spirit of the Son, is of the Father and of the Son. "The Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father" (John xv. 26); "God bath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts" (Gal. iv. 6). In A.D. 867 the publication of an "Encyclical to the Oriental Thrones" by a Greek theologian, Photius, formally brought this controversy, which had been an issue between the Latin Church and the Greek Church for well-nigh three hundred years, to a peak.

 

He, in accordance with the current view in the Greek Church, rejected the doctrine of the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Son. Thus there was a sharp division on that issue within the Christian Church—the Eastern Church being of the Photian School while the Western Church, including Spain, France, Italy and England maintained the position of the early fathers, which position was reaffirmed at the Reformation. To this day the Greek Church holds the Photian view, and this long-held belief is one barrier to union between the Greek Orthodox Church and either the Anglo-Catholic or Roman Catholic Church.

 

As well as those controversies which centred around the Holy Spirit as a Person of the Godhead, there are those which bore on the work of the Spirit. Noteworthy among these is the Pelagian Controversy which began to get prominence in Rome about A.D. 411. Pelagius, an ecclesiastic of British origin, assailed the doctrines of sovereign and efficacious grace and was opposed by Augustine of Hippo. Thus the followers of Pelagius (or Pelag­ians) and the more modern Socinians and Rationalists obscured and misrepresented the work of the Holy Spirit in conversion. They taught that man had a certain ability to believe and possessed a certain degree of essential goodness.

 

Augustine resolutely opposed the Pelagian error, and asserted the Scriptural teaching, and until his death in A.D. 430 he continued by word and pen to defend the doctrine of free and sovereign grace, against the pre­vailing errors, which were now semi-Pelagian in nature, "represent­ing conversion as proceeding partly from man's free will and partly from divine grace, and not at all differing from the Arminiamsm which, after the resuscitation of the doctrines of grace by the Reformers, diffused itself in the very same way through the different Churches."" Finally at the Synod of Orange in A.D. 529 a doctrinal statement was drawn up which gave a very effective check to semi-Pelagianism. At a somewhat later date a treatise "On the Calling of the Gentiles", of unknown author­ship, bore striking testimony to the work of the Holy Spirit. We quote from it as follows: "The Holy Spirit indeed, in the essence

of the Deity, is everywhere and all-comprehensive, but is con­ceived in a certain manner to recede from those He ceases to govern. And the cessation of His aid is to be regarded as His absence, which that man madly thinks useful to himself who rejoices in his good actions, and thinks that he rather than God hath wrought them. The grace of God must therefore be owned in the fullest and most unqualified sense, the first office of which is that His help be felt: 'We have not received', says the apostle, `the spirit of the world, but the Spirit of God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.' Whence, if any man think that he has any good things of which God is not the author, but himself, he has not the Spirit of God, but of the world."

 

The Middle Ages saw the ascendancy of Roman Catholicism, which reached its zenith in the 12th century. The Roman Catholic religion then, and now, in theory accepts the doctrine of the Trinity but in practice does grave dishonour to the Three Persons of the Trinity.

 

Prior to the Reformation, and paving the way for the Reforma­tion, there was a school of theology which occupied itself a great deal with mysticism. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), may be mentioned as a prominent figure at the outset of this epoch, and although there are proofs that he remained unenlightened on many matters, yet he made constant recourse to the Scriptures in his preaching and writing and was a powerful influence for good in a dark age. He laid stress on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and wrote very acceptably On Grace and Free Will. This mediaeval mysticism was a reaction against the formal, worldly and scan­dalous nature of the Roman Church. It evidenced itself in a desire for the restoration of light, life and holiness by the Holy Spirit. It prepared the way for the clearer views of the Reforma­tion Era and the final break with Romanism. In fact Luther in 1516 published a famous handbook on mysticism entitled Eine Deutsche Theologie ("A Germany Theology"). Later forms of mysticism became more anti-scriptural and speculative. Quaker­ism, for example, which developed in the 17th century, has a marked affinity with mysticism. The Quakers, who broke away from the Puritans, asserted that nothing mattered but the authority of the Spirit, and laid stress on "inner light" in the experience, under-valuing or neglecting altogether the authority of Scripture.

 

The Reformation Era now dawned and consequently there was a peculiar emphasis placed on the work of the Holy Spirit. As is true of any scriptural revival, the Reformation was of necessity a great work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit worked mightily in men like Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Beza and Knox. Their testi­mony to the work of the Holy Spirit was emphatic, scriptural and full. Their speech and their preaching "was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power". Calvin's Institutes published in 1536 was a most able presentation of Christian doctrine, witnessing to the scripturalness of Reformed theology.

 

Unhappily error reared its ugly head again, within the Reformed Church. Socinus (1539-1604), an Italian theologian, attacked, among other doctrines, that of the Holy Spirit, denying His Person­ality and work. His teachings led to the formation of many Unitarian Churches.

 

Arminius (1560-1609), a Dutch professor, originated the move­ment which still bears his name. Arminianism was in fact identi­cal with semi-Pelagianism. Among other errors, he propounded that the work of the Holy Spirit could be resisted and rejected—the human will being the deciding factor. He also rejected the doctrine of the final perseverance of the saints. His errors received widespread recognition and caused incalculable havoc and dissension within the professing Church. The Synod of Dort, which was attended by representatives from many of the Reformed Churches, was called in 1619 to deal with the Arminian Contro­versy. The Canons of that Synod emphatically confirmed biblical teaching on the renewing work of the Holy Spirit. Arminianism was to become in the next century the official doctrine of Method­ism, and to be adopted by sections of the Baptists, Congregational­ists and other Churches.

 

Puritanism in England came into being in opposition to the Arminian teaching and to the Romish practices of the National Church. The Puritan teaching was signally owned of God the Holy Spirit, and to His work in the souls of men they bore clear testi­mony in their preaching and writings.

 

Time will only permit us to glance at the past three centuries. It has been obvious that there have been periods of declension and periods of revival—the work of the Holy Spirit has been treated as a thing of nought, and then has been highly prized and sought after. The Revivals of the 18th century in Britain and America bespeak a wonderful outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In those times, many were converted unto God. The Holy Spirit worked mightily and many were wonderfully equipped to declare the Gospel to their fellows. The names of Griffith Jones, Daniel Rowlands, and Howell Harris in Wales, George Whitefield, Fletcher of Madeley, John Berridge, Henry Venn, William Romaine, Augustus Toplady and Charles Simeon in England, the Erskines, John Willison and Thomas Boston in Scotland, and Jonathan Edwards in America, readily occur to mind.

 

In the next century the work of the Holy Spirit is seen especially in the success of missionary enterprise. Such men as William Carey, Marshman, John Paton, Robert Morrison, Henry Martyrs, John Williams, the Moffats, David Livingstone and Hudson Taylor were greatly used by the Holy Spirit in bringing many souls out of gross darkness into God's marvellous light. In passing, we may refer to Brethrenism. It originated in 1827 in Ireland and some years later became strong in Plymouth. Among other erroneous views they hold most regrettable ones on the Holy Spirit. They object to praying for the Holy Spirit—He has already been given—and they presumptuously claim to be presided over by Him in their gatherings to the extent that they will carry out decisions arrived at under this supposition with supreme confidence. Even within their own fraternity there are, however, sharp divisions of opinion.

 

Neo-Calvinism or Barthianism is a 20th century form of theo­logy which has been accepted in various parts of the world. It denies inspiration, while at the same time it tries to reconcile the use of the Bible by the Spirit to convert men. It is of course an anomalous position, but nevertheless it has a considerable follow­ing in our day.

 

We regret that our treatment of this absorbing and glorious subject has been so sketchy and limited. Although the Lord's people in the world now see through a glass darkly, and their minds are much occupied with what is temporal and earthly, yet they have the hope that they shall yet see clearly and know even as they are known. Then too shall the glorious mystery of the Trinity be unveiled for them, so that what appears dark and obscure shall be illumined and glorious in their eyes.

 

In conclusion, let me draw your attention to a passage from Dr. Owen's Pneumato!ogia. He says, "Our knowledge of things in general, is more from their operations and effects, than from their own nature: it is so particularly with respect to God Himself. In His own glorious Being, He dwells in light inaccessible; but in the effects of His will, revealed in His Word and works, we are to seek Him: and thus, we obtain a better acquaintance with Him than by the most diligent speculations about His nature immedi­ately. Thus it is with the Holy Ghost and His personality. He is proposed to us in the Scripture by His properties, works, and operations; by our duty to Him and offences against Him .. . the due consideration of these will lead us into that assured know­ledge of His Being and subsistence which is necessary to direct our faith and obedience-, and which will also throw much light on the whole economy of God in our salvation"."

 

May we have the desire of Paul, "Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, accord­ing to the power that worketh in us, unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen" (Eph. iii. 20, 21).

 

Donald McCloud - Copyright

 

REFERENCES

 

1. George Smeaton, D.D.: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Banner of Truth Trust, 1958), p. 5.

2. Westminster Confession of Faith: Larger Catechism, Q. 9.

3. Charles Hodge, D.D.: Systematic Theology (Thomas Nelson & Sons. 1888). Vol. 1, p. 444.

4. George Smeaton, D.D.: op, cit., p. 133.

5. John Owen, D.D.: Pneunzatologia: 1820 Edition, p. 83.

6. Westminster Confession of Faith, chap. xiii, para. 1.

7. Ibid.: chap. i, para. x.

8. John Owen, D.D.: op. cit., p. 28.

9. Larger Catechism: Q. 182.

10. George Smeaton, D.D.: op. cit., p. 301.

11, John Owen, D.D.: op. cit., pp. 9, 10.

 

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 18 February 2014 10:48  

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