Religious teachers and writers are impressed by the fact that Christians everywhere desire a more comprehensive knowledge of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. It may be that a sense of need and insufficiency cause many to inquire. They want to understand how the Spirit's fullness can be received and retained.
In many cases, misconceptions concerning the Spirit and ignorance of His work are responsible for weakness and ineffectiveness in Christian life and labor. If only the Spirit could come into His own, lives would be rich in fruitfulness and fragrant with the perfume of Christ. By realizing all that the third person of the Trinity has for us, facts of promise could become factors of power.
Approaching the theme before us, sublime and sacred as it is, we have to confess that no saint can explain fully to himself or to others the gracious operations of the Spirit. Personally, we can experience His power and witness His work in and through other lives, but our reach exceed sour grasp. Thus, any exposition of the personality and work of the Spirit is more or less imperfect because of our inability to describe our experiences correctly.
All of us are able to know with absolute certainty the facts of His indwelling presence, life-giving energy, and sanctifying power, even though our opinions as to the origin and theory of the Spirit's presence within the soul may differ.
We enter upon these evangelical studies of the Spirit with the confession that the doctrine is, in many respects, mysterious. Because of our finite understanding we may have a true but incomplete grasp of it. It is a revealed fact of Holy Scripture, and as such is to be received and believed. The truth of the Spirit transcends, but does not contradict reason. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one and only one God. Each has some characteristics which the other has not. Neither is God without the others, and each with the others is God. The Father says "I," the Spirit says "I." The Father loves the Son; the Son honors the Father; the Spirit testifies of the Son.
Students of church history have pointed out that the twin truths of the Holy Spirit and of our Lord's return were lost to the church for a long period. Although recognized, declared, and surely believed by the apostles and early fathers, they were lost to vision during the Dark Ages when the church was almost entirely Romish.
The Spirit's manifold operations allied with the "blessed hope" now hold a prominent place in the theology of evangelical believers, thanks to the efforts of spiritually-minded teachers throughout the last 150 years.
And, it will be observed, these twin truths rise or fall together. If we deny the one, we discard the other. In his monumental volume on Christian Doctrine, Dale remarks, "There are some who have not discovered that as the coming of Christ was a new and wonderful thing in the history of our race, the coming of the Holy Spirit was also a new and wonderful thing in the history of our race, and that His coming has made an infinite difference in the life of man."
It is imperative to grasp the truth of the Spirit.
Although we have more volumes than ever before expounding the graces and gifts of the Spirit, I fear that such enlightenment is sadly neglected by the vast majority of Christians. A recital of the Creed there may be—"I believe in the Holy Ghost"—but where He is unknown, or where the essentials of our faith are tampered with, His presence cannot be realized.
Professor Erdman, in his inspiring book The Holy Spirit and Christian Experience, wrote,
The Spirit cannot be where Christ is denied as redeemer, life and Lord of all. Christ is "the Truth" and the Spirit is "the Spirit of Truth"; all is personal, not abstract, ideal, and the sum and substance of material wherewith the Spirit works in Christ.... In brief, the Spirit must be silent altogether in pulpits and churches where a different "gospel which is not another" gospel is preached, and where unrebuked and unchecked ... prevail, although in a form of godliness, "the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" and the things which are "not of the Father, but ... of the world"; things which are not of the new nature and spirit in which the Holy Spirit dwells and through which alone He can work and testify.... We should be warned by the history of the apostolic churches, once so full of the Spirit, but which perished from their places long ago. The same denial of Christ, the same worldliness is our danger today. All that can help us is the presence of the Spirit of Christ, and He will not work save with the Truth of Christ; and He only must dwell in the Temple of God, which temple we are.
Bearing in mind that he is named some ninety-three times in the New Testament, we realize His conspicuous place in this age of grace, which is the dispensation of "the ministration of the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:8). It is spiritually disastrous to neglect what the Bible reveals of His activities. Preeminence is given to "Church Work," "Social Work," "Mission Work," but the apostles knew only one kind of work, namely the Spirit's work. This is why the Acts is saturated with His presence and presidency, and should be renamed "the Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles."
Of William Arthur's fiery message, "Tongues of Fire," issued in 1856, Campbell Morgan remarked, "It was a book before its time, yet men read it—our fathers tell us—on their knees." Here is a sentence or two from this spiritual classic: "In this age of faith in the natural, and disinclination to the supernatural, we want especially to meet the credo—'I believe in the Holy Ghost.'" May the Spirit enable us to challenge the spirit of the age thus! God forbid that we should live and serve as the Ephesians who had acted ignorantly of the Spirit, and who, when brought face to face with His claims, declared that they had "not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost" (Acts 19:2).
Are we not safe in affirming that no other aspect of biblical truth is so misunderstood as that of the ministry of the Spirit? Endless confusion reigns—confusion resulting in heartache and spiritual disaster—because of this lack of understanding.
No one can amass printed material on the Spirit without encountering conflicting theories. And what bitterness is sometimes expressed by one section of believers who cannot endorse the opinion strenuously held by another group! As the late Campbell Morgan so forcefully expressed it, "The greatest peril which threatens the truth of the Spirit's personal ministry today, arises from the advocacy of the truth by those who are not careful to discover there have been launched a number of wholly unauthorized systems, which have brought bondage where the Spirit would have brought liberty."
One aspect of misunderstanding is referred to by Dale, who speaks of those "who are still sitting in the upper chamber, waiting, praying, longing for the coming of the Spirit, not knowing that the Spirit came almost nineteen hundred years ago with a mighty rushing wind and tongue of fire; that He has never left the church; that there is therefore no reason for Him to come again. He is here, for according to the words of Christ, the Spirit having come abides with us forever."
Satan has two methods of procedure in dealing with truth. First, he seeks to hide the vision. When that is no longer possible, when any truth with its inherent brilliance and beauty drives away the mists, then Satan's method is that of patronage and falsification. He endeavors to take it out of its true proportion and turn it into deadly error.
This aspect arises out of the one just considered, for misunderstanding and perversion are inseparably allied.
For example, in his concern lest the converts in Corinth should be lured away from "the simplicity that is in Christ," Paul indicates for them three characteristic marks of false teaching: another Jesus, another Spirit, and another gospel (2 Cor. 11:4). It may be profitable to examine this trinity of perversion or compendium of error.
It was clearly evident to Paul and the Corinthian believers that the Jesus of the false teachers of Galatia and of Corinth was not the Jesus they knew—not the Savior of a lost world the apostle so vigorously preached. And the Jesus of present-day modernism, beautiful and holy though He may be, is still only the peasant of Galilee, not the Christ of God invested with all the prerogatives of deity. The Jesus of modern, cultured thought is not the Jesus of the Gospels and the Epistles; not the Jesus we believe Him to be, who died, rose again, and ascended into heaven, there to intercede for us until He appears in great glory for His redeemed ones.
This different gospel was not the one the Corinthians had received from Paul, namely the gospel of pardon through faith working by love. The perverted gospel he refers to was one based on the old Pharisaic lines of works, ritual, and ceremony.
The old-fashioned gospel of the grace of God is not fashionable in some quarters today. The gospel of redeeming blood, of salvation by faith is treated as worn-out theology. Advancing knowledge has brought us a gospel of ethics, a social gospel, and salvation by works. But as Paul warns us, "If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:9).
From Ellicott's most illuminating Commentary on the Scriptures we have this interpretation: "The words, 'another Spirit,' point to a counterfeit inspiration, perhaps like that of those who had interrupted the praises of the church with the startling cry, 'Anathema to Jesus!' ... Such as these were the 'false prophets' of 2 Peter 2:1; 1John 4:3; simulating the phenomena of inspiration, perhaps thought of by the apostles as really acting under the inspiration of an evil spirit."
Liberalism in our age has produced "another Spirit," one who has no gracious personality, no deity, but whose works are simply emanations. To quote the findings of the modernistic school of thought, "what the New Testament denotes by 'Holy Spirit' is the divine dynamic energy, pregnant with all the potencies of 'spiritual' or supernatural life, which passed, as in the nervous system of a human organism from head to body, animating and controlling all the members and constituting the whole mystic or spiritual messianic organism, humanity indwelt by God." All of which verbosity is a polite way of bowing out the august person of the Spirit from the biblical revelation of His real substance and service.
A cry for "another Spirit" of a more diabolical sort, however, fills the air. One sure mark of our Lord's speedy return is a greater manifestation of "seducing spirits" (1 Tim. 4:1). And the Spirit Himself expressly warns us against counterfeits of His person and work.
The spirit at the back of spiritualism and all spiritist forces is not the Holy Spirit we love and revere. It is "another spirit," the evil spirit who is the satanic antagonist of the Good Spirit.
What we need, therefore, is a closer study of the Spirit of grace as He is revealed in Scripture. Nothing can rescue the God-dishonoring factions laboring under the cloak of Christianity from deeper apostasy apart from a repentant return to the Holy Spirit Himself. Once He assumes lordship, a true antidote is found for all perversion, apostasy, and spiritual barrenness.
A. J. Gordon, who has given us one of the most wonderful books ever written on the Spirit's ministry, implied that there is no need to prove His person and prerogatives when they are so clearly taught by Christ in John 14-16. "The discussion," he says, "of the personality of the Holy Spirit is so unnatural in the light of Christ's last discourse that we studiously avoid it." But while such a position is tenable from the standpoint of orthodox believers, we are exhorted to "prove all things." For this reason we set ourselves to the task of outlining what the Bible teaches concerning the reality and resources of the Spirit.
Some belittle the importance of the study before us through a misconception of what our Lord said of the Spirit in John 16:13: "... he shall not speak of Himself...." Such a description is taken to imply self-effacement. If in all humanity the Spirit never speaks of Himself, then why should we say much about Him? This, of course, is a misinterpretation of the phrase, as the next qualifying statement proves: "... whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak...." A comparison of one or two translations will help to clarify the matter.
The American Standard Version has it: "He shall not speak from himself." Weymouth expresses it, "He will not speak as Himself originating what He says, but all that He hears He will speak." Moffat translates the phrase, "He will not speak of His own accord." All of which implies that the Spirit does not act or speak on His own authority or initiative. He does not originate the truth He utters. Receiving it from God, He communicates it to others.
Our Lord's declaration of the Spirit's subordination is in contrast to the attitude of human teachers, as He indicates in a previous chapter: "He that speaketh of himself [that is, acting on his own authority] seeketh his own glory ..." (John 7:18). Heaven-sent teachers do not speak on their own authority. "I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me ..." (17:8).
Believing, as we do, that the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit, it is not surprising to find His own visible marks across its sacred pages from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:17.
Conduct is regulated by creed. It is necessary, therefore, to clearly and fully grasp the truth of the Spirit in order that His purposes and character may be revealed in and through our lives. It is not enough to formulate theories about His manifestation. All we discover must have a practical effect upon our lives.
It is true that what we most constantly think about exercises a transforming power over life. A miser unconsciously shows his greed and fascination of gold. The ambitious, unscrupulous man cannot hide the cunning schemes he devises. Pleasure seekers cannot cover up the lustfulness of their mind. "As he thinketh in his heart, so is he ..." (Prov. 23:7).
Our aim should be to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth of the Spirit in such a way as to produce a life of richer devotion and holiness. The Word must become flesh and go out and dwell among men. That such a theme is intensely and immensely practical is emphasized by A. T. Pierson's heart-searching words:
If the Spirit dwells in the body of Christ, and is left free to work His own will, He will quicken the whole body. Members will have a new care one for another, suffering and rejoicing together. There will be a holy jealousy for the welfare and happiness of all who belong to the mystical body, and an earnest and loving co-operation in all holy work. All schism, whether manifest in inward estrangement or in outward separation becomes impossible so far as the Spirit of truth indwells; and all apathy and inactivity in the face of a dying world will give way to sympathetic activity when and so far as the Spirit of life thrills the body; even as all ignorance of God and superstitious worship of forms flee like owls of the night when the spirit of God shines in His divine splendor. In a word, all needs of the church are met so surely and speedily as the Holy Ghost, who still abides in the church as God's only earthly temple, resumes by the consent and co-operation of disciples, His normal control, actively guiding into all truth and duty.
Behind all negligence, perversion, and rejection of the Spirit's operations is the hidden hand of Satan. He fully realizes how detrimental to his satanic plans is a perfect understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit and an entire submission to His way.
No matter what realm of investigation may open to one, the manner in which it is approached largely determines the measure of success in the pursuit of required knowledge. The scientist with his problems; the naturalist and his studies; the scholar with his quest for knowledge, all alike realize that the frame of mind with which they face their tasks prepares them in a very definite way for the discoveries. How then, should we study one of the holiest of themes?
Has not our Lord a somewhat daring word about casting pearls before swine, and giving that which is holy unto the dogs (see Matt. 7:6)? Clearly, one application of such a drastic declaration is that the Holy Spirit will not unveil His magnificence and power unless we seek to maintain a right heart attitude in such a meditation as this. As we read the pages of this book, we must constantly pray that an ever-growing knowledge may be ours and that immediate and implicit obedience to light received will be given. If such a study does not lead to fuller submission to the will of God, to a complete consecration, to a deeper passion for souls, then our goal will not be reached. Light apart from obedience is apt to become darkness, and how great is this darkness!
There is no reason to linger here. It is taken for granted that we realize our need of a prayerful, absolute reliance upon the Lord for guidance and tutoring. May we be saved from studying the truth of the Spirit without the direct aid of the Spirit of Truth Himself!
Paul exhorts us to remember that spiritual truths are not discoverable by human wisdom, but are revealed and taught by the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:9-16). What is hid from the wise, who are proud of their wisdom, is revealed unto babes; as R. A. Torrey used to say, "the baby method is the best one for discovering truth."
As we come to analyze the various aspects of the Spirit's work, we must be prepared to lay aside our preconceived notions or theories. Our judgment must not be confused. We must be ready and willing to think God's thoughts of the Spirit after Him.
The Berean method of searching the Scriptures daily to see whether "[these] things were so" (Acts 17:11) is one to copy as we grapple with any doctrine. And one result occurring from a prayerful, patient, and systematic approach to any phase of scriptural truth is that it becomes a settled conviction. Further, when confronted by the theories, opinions, and speculations of men we instantly receive or reject them, by the law and testimony embedded within our own mind.