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A Summary of The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit - by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon

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One of the most neglected topics in the history of the church is the theology surrounding the Holy Spirit and His Work. May this be a help to you.

Throughout the greater part of church history one of the most neglected among doctrines is the biblical teaching concerning the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit. In contrast to historical exclusion, Scripture is permeated with truths identifying and explaining the person and work of the Holy Spirit in creation, through the Messiah, and in the work among believers. Historically and exegetically truths about this doctrine are classified within the larger framework of the Trinity. Truths surrounding the Trinity and the person of the Holy Spirit are directly related. There is one God or divine essence. The same numerical divine essence is common to three divine Persons known as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Between these three persons of the Godhead, there exists a natural order of subsistence and operation. This operation teaches that the first Person has life in Himself (John 5:26) and that the second and third Persons subsist and act from the first. This order of Persons is from eternity. Their order of subsistence is the ground and reason there are three names or designations of the Godhead – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But who is this Spirit?

In the Old Testament the Spirit of God is first introduced as the Creator of all things (Gen. 1:2; Job 26:13; 33:4). Man, one being among all things, is also created and filled with the breath of life, or a special operation of the Spirit imparting His image upon man. Adam attained originally what Christ would later replenish in some fallen men – the gift of the Spirit. As a result of the fall of man, the Spirit withdrew from him and he was then designated as “flesh” (Gen. 4:3). The image of God that Adam was first created in was wholly corrupted and defiled by his sin in the garden under the temptation of the devil (Gen. 3:1-15; John 3:6). Since the fall, the plan of salvation has encompassed the replenishment of the defiled image of God by the operation of the Spirit upon wicked men who receive mercy through mediation.

Throughout the Old Testament the Spirit worked upon and in men for the glory of God. The Spirit of Christ animated the prophets and indwelt them as those speaking on behalf of God (1 Peter 1:11). Abraham himself, called a prophet, had the Spirit indwelling him (Gen. 20:6). Even Joseph is said to have the Spirit of God in him when Pharaoh commented, “Can we find such a man as this – a man in whom the Spirit of God is? (Gen. 41:38).” The blessing of Abraham and the promise of the Spirit were always bestowed upon all those that believed God and His promises. Though the Spirit may have been more sparingly imparted, this never voided the same work of the Spirit in the Old Testament as in the New Testament (Num. 11:17; 27:18; Deut 34:9; Neh. 9:20; Isa 63:11-14). Even in the book of Judges we find God raising up supernaturally gifted men who were endowed with a special portion of the Spirit for service. The prophets themselves required the operation of the Spirit in order to fulfill their special duties as well as being carried along by the Holy Spirit to write the inspired Scriptures. Even the kings, such as David, were endowed with special office-gifts in order to fulfill their function as king.

There are certainly a host of passages that deal with the work of the Holy Spirit through the Old Testament. Psalm 139:7 says, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?” Psalm 51:11 states, “Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.” Psalm 143:10 says, “Teach me to do Your will, For You are my God; Your Spirit is good. Lead me in the land of uprightness.” Paul the apostles quotes Psalm 116:10, “And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,” we also believe and therefore speak (2 Cor. 4:13).” The same Spirit of faith in the Old Testament is the same of the New Testament. Even Proverbs 1:23 says, “Turn at my rebuke; Surely I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you.” Such a pouring out of the Spirit is not uncommon for those seeking truth.

The prophets also have a great amount to say about the Holy Spirit. Hosea 9:7 states that Hosea himself was a man of the Spirit. Joel 2:28 prophesies about the restoration of Israel and the outpouring of the Spirit in connection with the Messianic sending of the Spirit. Isaiah sets forth a vivid picture of the Spirit in numerous passages (Isa. 9:2; 42:1; 44:3; 59:19-21; 61:1). Ezekiel was extraordinarily involved in the Spirit’s prophetic work (Ezek. 2:24; 8:3; 11:24; 36:25-27). This demonstrates to us that the Holy Spirit was active in the Old Testament in the work of imparting the superhuman gift of prophecy to a few, and the comforting power of the Spirit to many. The divine personality of the Spirit was not less known and not less recognized in the Old Testament in comparison to the New Testament. Even through the Old Testament the Holy Spirit was recognized as a divine Person.

In the New Testament the Spirit’s work is more clearly seen, but at no time was His work ever called into question. Jesus and the apostles in speaking of the Spirit’s work were not speaking some new language that threw off their hearers. The fundamental idea that the Messiah should be anointed with the Spirit and come in the power of the Spirit was consistent with what the Jews understood in that day.

All the Gospel evangelists refer to the Spirit’s work in connection with His birth, baptism and temptation. But the title Christ or Messiah was given to the Redeemer from the peculiar unction of the Spirit which was given to him by nature and degree. In terms of the coming of the Messiah, the forerunner, John the Baptist, was filled with the Spirit even from his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15-17). With Elizabeth, Zacharias and Simeon they were filled with the Holy Spirit and gave forth divine announcements of the divine will (Luke 1:42, 67, 2:25). With Christ, though, it is very much different. The infinite fullness of the Spirit was given to Him constantly and uninterruptedly unlike believers who had the Spirit indwelling them, but not uninterruptedly. His Father’s will was to send the Holy Spirit in His name (John 14:26) and that the Spirit would be dispensed by His own hand. With the teachings of Christ, there are two main divisions about the Spirit, 1) those which describe the Spirit’s work in conversion, and 2) those which describe the Spirit’s work on the mind of the apostles and of the Church in general. Oftentimes, the teaching of the Spirit surrounded discourses on living water (John 7:37-39). Such blessings are announced as gifts to those that come and repent of their sins. This is done by faith which involves the teaching of the Father (John 6:45), the drawing of the Son (John 12:32) and the life-giving power of the Spirit (John 6:63).

When the apostle speaks of the Spirit not yet being given, as with the apostle John, he is not talking about location. The Spirit is everywhere where He will be forever and will never be in any other place since He is infinite. When the Apostles says “the Spirit was not yet given” (John 7:39) he is speaking comparatively, not absolutely, as is always the case between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Nor is it strange when Christ says, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit (John 20:22).” This refers to the gifting of the Holy Spirit for service, in which the apostles would take up in Jerusalem. They would receive even more of the Spirit in Jerusalem as they awaited a greater outpouring for their Gospel service.

The greatest event in all of history next to the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the giving of the Comforter by the Messiah. The formal Christian economy following the Messiah was inaugurated at Pentecost. Here the Holy Spirit took the place of Christ’s physical bodily presence, and instead, was sent to fill that void spiritually. Now the enthroned Messiah seated at the right hand of God would send the Holy Spirit. He would not simply proceed form the Father and the Son, but he would be sent by the Messiah for the specific task of organically uniting the body of which the Messiah is the Head. The Spirit was poured out upon the one hundred and twenty of the Upper room – those who waited upon the Lord’s command. The tongues of fire baptized them for service, and touched them on their heads. This effusion of the Spirit made a great change on all the powers of the apostles, whether we look at the further sanctification of their heart (since they had previously been converted) or their empowerment for service. The extraordinary gifts given to these men by the Holy Spirit would cease after the Church was founded upon the inspired Scripture. Gifts such as tongues (1 Cor. 14:22), the interpretation of tongues (1 Cor. 14:5), the word of wisdom (1 Cor. 12:8), the gift of faith (Mark 16:18; Acts 28:5) – which is not the same as faith in believing, but the faith of miracles – the power of discerning spirits, the gifts of healing, and other gifts which were supernatural of the Holy Spirit were given to the Apostles, but sovereignly disposed by the Spirit to them in His own right for founding the church.

The apostolic Epistles demonstrate an acute awareness of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Paul draws attention to the reality that Christ and the Spirit work together for the good of the church and the glory of God (2 Cor. 3:17). He is called the Spirit of God (Rom. 8:9), the Spirit of His Son (Gal. 4:6) and the Spirit of Him that raised up Christ from the dead (Rom 8:11). In believers Paul notes that the Spirit is the Spirit of Grace (Heb. 10:29), the Spirit of Adoption (Rom. 8:15) and the Spirit that dwells in us (Rom. 8:11). The Spirit is involved throughout Paul’s writings as the action of the whole application of redemption. He washes, sanctifies and justifies His church (1 Cor. 6:11). He reveals His word to His people (1 Cor. 2:14). He is the author of saving faith (2 Cor. 4:13) who produces such faith by a saving call and change of the depraved heart, one of stone, into a heart of flesh that beats for God. The work, seen here thus far, is the same work that the Spirit accomplishes all through redemptive history, whether in the Old Testament or New Testament. The contrast between one and the other mainly rests on extent the Spirit was given to the Messiah, and His actions to send the Spirit from the throne of God. In comparison with the numbers of people who had the Spirit on the Old Testament, and were made partakers of the Spirit, Paul makes a differentiation between the economy of the “letter” and the economy of the “Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:6). It is by the scope and extent of the outpouring of the Spirit that marks the difference.

In the practical application of the work of the Spirit upon the Christian, one may divide His work into the three sections that Romans outlines: regeneration, spiritual-mindedness, and walking after the Spirit (Romans 8:4, 6, 9). Such a gracious salvation and indwelling of the spirit (walking in Him) is of the Christian in any age. For Paul says in Romans 8:9, “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.” If one does not “have” the Spirit, (e;cw (ekh’-o) meaning 1) to have, i.e. to hold in the sense of wearing) then He is not God’s and not Christ’s. He addresses those who walk after the Spirit, of whom we have to understand contrary things to the former. He defines what it is to be in the Spirit, or to be sanctified, that is, to have the Spirit of God dwelling in us. Then he declares that sanctification is so joined and knit to our grafting into Christ, that it can by no means be separated. However, he says that anyone who does not have the Spirit in this way is not of Christ, or not saved. Upon this verse alone it is eminently apparent that all the saints, in any sage, were saved, filled, and walking in the Spirit in this sense or they were not of Christ in any saving sense. On this ground they are evidenced to be children of the Spirit, adopted by God, and having a filial relationship with God as His children.

For the Christian, the Spirit is also the Spirit of prayer (Eph. 1:17; James 1:26) and by the illumination of the Spirit, the Christian is able to understand the things of God and of Christ and help the believer to pray effectively according to the will of God. The Spirit is also the Christian’s seal and earnest (Eph. 1:13; 4:30). This means that believers are God’s inviolable property and known to be so by the Spirit dwelling in them.

One of the most comprehensive treatments of the New Testament witness to the Spirit is through the Apostle John and his letters. The Spirit is known as the Spirit of God (1 John 4:2), sent forth from God (1 John 4:3), providing powerful unction from the Holy One (1 John 2:20-27), the Spirit of truth (1 John 5:6), and the One who abides in us (1 John 3:24).

In speaking of the divine procession of the Spirit, there are two ways of looking at this subject: 1) a priori, from the fact of eternal procession, and 2) a posteriori, from the unquestionable evidences of divine personality which are given all through the Scriptures. The divine personality is proven against the Arian and Sabellian heresies which have attempted to overthrow this doctrine in the church through the ages. Sabellius believed that the Holy Spirit was merely a divine influence that was part of the three masks of God. Arius believed that the Spirit was simply a created forced used by God.

When the Bible speaks about the personality of the Spirit, it speaks in terms of mind, will and spontaneous action. It is important to note that the term “person” is not a biblical term and is very much capable of being twisted and turned to suit a heretical notion. It is most helpful, then, to define the Spirit and arrive at the definition than to define “person” and suit the Scriptures to a man-made definition. In creating a definition, it would be most helpful to give the Spirit descriptive character traits based on Scripture first. In this way we can extract a definition instead of creating one to overlay what men believe “person” should mean.

The Spirit is not the Father and is not the Son, but distinct from both. He is intelligent, has a will, power and wisdom that He acts upon. Jesus said He would send another Comforter, which, if Christ is the first Comforter than that statement alone demonstrates the personality of mind, will and affections of another Comforter. If the Spirit is denied as a person from that text (John 14:16-17), “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever “the Spirit of truth,” then one must also deny the personality of the Christ, which is impossible.

The Spirit teaches (John 14:26), guides (John 16:13), and glorifies Christ (John 16:14). The change of gender in John 16 to the demonstrative pronoun (eikenos) demonstrates personality when it refers to “He” all through the passage.

The personality of the Spirit, then, may be placed under the following six categories: 1) 1. The personal actions ascribed to Him abundantly prove his personality (John 14:26; 1 Cor. 12:11). 2) His distinction from the Father and the Son, and His mission from both, prove His personality (John 15:26). 3) The co-ordinate rank and power that belong to Him equally with the Father and the Son prove His personality (Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14). 4) His appearance under a visible form at the baptism of Christ and on the day of Pentecost proves His personality. 5) The sin against the Holy Ghost implying a Person proves His personality. 6) The way in which He is distinguished from His gifts proves His personality (1 Cor. 12:11).

In terms of the procession of the Spirit, He proceeds from the Father and the Son. John 15:26 says, “whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.” The term “proceeds” signifies an ever-enduring procession. The Spirit proceeds forever from the Father. He also proceeds from the Son. John 16:14 states, “He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.” The Son is eternally generated from the Father, and hears what the Father commands and speaks. The Spirit proceeds from them both in order to speak what He hears the Son teach. As John 16:13 says, “for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.”

In terms of the deity of the Spirit, it is proved by the procession of the Spirit from God, and the incommunicable acts of creation and providence as ascribed to the Spirit (Gen. 1:6; Psalm 33:6; Job 26:13). Divine attributes are ascribed to Him (1 Cor. 2:10-11; Psalm 139:7; Romans 8:26; 1 Cor. 1:13). He is placed in rank with the Father and the Son (such as at Christ’s baptism – Matthew 3:16), and the name of God is directly given to Him (Acts 5:3-4; cf. Psalm 95:7 and Heb. 3:7).

The work of the Spirit in the anointing of Christ, according to His work in the Covenant of Grace, is of great importance. The Lord Jesus taught about the nature of the Covenant when He spoke of Himself as receiving the Father’s command (John 10:18), and of the Spirit as not speaking of Himself, but glorifying Christ, and of taking of His teachings and showing them to the disciples (John 16:14).

The great fact of the incarnation of the Son in human flesh takes for granted that Christ’s manhood was immediately filled and led by the Spirit. Passages that refer to Christ being filled with the Spirit, or the Spirit given to Him without measure are stated historically, not theology. They are part of the historical narrative of the Gospels. In the office of Mediator, in human flesh, the Lord Jesus received the unction of the Spirit. As the humanity was assumed in the hypostatic union (the union between the flesh and the divinity of the Son of God) the person of Christ was anointed by the Spirit so far as the call to the office was concerned. At the same time, his humanity is anointed as far as the actual supplies of gifts and graces are concerned, so that He has a necessary endowment for the function of His office.

The first degree of this anointing of the Spirit took place at his incarnation (Luke 1:35; Luke 2:40). The second degree was given at His baptism (John 1:33). This descent was intended to confirm and encourage the Lord Jesus before entering on his formal work of salvation. The symbolic dove demonstrated the resting of the Spirit upon Him for the task (Isaiah 11:2). The Spirit anointed Him supremely for His official work (Matthew 3:11). This was also part of His temptation in the wilderness where the Spirit drove Him there to be tested. And when such a time of testing was completed, Luke tells us that He returned with the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:14). When He offered Himself upon the cross as an oblation, He did this through the power of the Spirit. Hebrews 9:14 states, “how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” The Son of God, moved and animated by the Holy Spirit, offered Himself without spot or blemish as an atoning sacrifice.

The third degree of Christ’s unction is for His exaltation. Acts 2:33 says, “Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.” This is where the actual mission of the Comforter is stated and is sent by the Messiah from His throne room to the Church organically binding together the whole Church to the Head. In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit is never actually said to be “sent” since this would be done officially by the office of the Mediator.

Should Christians believe the Scriptures are inspired and a production of the Holy Spirit? Extraordinary gifts were given to the church through the Old and New Testaments for service. The Spirit is given authorship of these gifts (Hebrews 2:4). Such is the case with His carrying along the prophets to speak and write down the Word of God. Peter states, “for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21).” The prophetic Spirit imparted a supernatural divine illumination in virtue of what the apostles and prophets understood fully and what they were commissioned to announce on behalf of God and Christ. Smeaton states, “The Holy Spirit supplied prophets and apostles, as chosen organs, with gifts which must be distinguished from ordinary grace, to give forth in human forms of speech a revelation which must be accepted as the word of God in its whole contents, and as the authoritative guide for doctrine and duty.” This would include miracles that immediately prove the truth of the doctrine and the inspiration of the messenger. The Holy Spirit accommodated the message through prophets which resembles a mother’s accommodation to the capacity of her infant. He spoke in a manner that human beings would understand the divine message.

Spiritual illumination of the believer is different than being carried along by the Spirit to confer a divine message. Conferring divine revelation was officially binding upon the church, where divine illumination helps the believer understand the Word of God.

The Spirit applies the work of redemption to the individual in what theology calls regeneration. The efficacious operation of the Spirit presupposes God’s sovereign election on certain individuals to receive the benefits of Christ’s death for them. This application of Christ’s work is done by the Spirit’s divine application on the human soul, or heart.

Since Adam forfeited the Spirit in the garden, it is now part of the history of redemption to gain back the Spirit by God’s gracious work through Christ and through the Spirit’s work on the heart. Men do not have the Spirit as fallen humans (Jude 19), and as a necessary consequence of that void, they are sensual and carnal (1 Cor. 2:14). This withdrawal of the Spirit is called “spiritual death (2 Cor. 3:5; 1 Cor. 2:14; Romans 8:7).” Now, men must be regenerated and endowed with the Spirit of God since they are imputed with Adam’s sin from conception and are devoid of all spiritual good.

Jesus demonstrates, emphatically, that men must be born again, or born from above, which is the work of regeneration on the heart of the wicked (John 3:3). As John 6:63 states, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.” Such a sovereign regeneration (a change of the heart from stone to beating flesh) is by the blowing will of the Spirit (John 3:1-8). The Spirit then convicts and sanctifies the individual by purging unbelief (John 16:8). Those regenerated are then made new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17). The Spirit inhabits the whole man and renews him (Romans 8:9). These are adopted as sons, and are assured by the Spirit of their sovereign election (Rom. 8:16; 1 John 3:2).

In the work of sanctification it is important to note the work of Christ for the Christian in comparison to the work of the Spirit in the Christian. One leads to a first conversion, the other to a continual holiness.

The Spirit enables regenerated Christians to discern good from evil, or sin from holiness. He disposes the mind to accept truth and to know what the Scriptures contain. Here the Spirit aids the Christian in expounding Scripture in order to apply that Scripture to the Christian’s life and further grow in the mystical union he now has with Christ (1 Cor. 6:17). The Spirit illuminates through His indwelling presence within the individual (John 16:16; 2 Tim. 1:14; Rom. 8:9; Gal. 4:6; 1 Cor. 3:16; 1 John 4:13; Eph. 1:13).

Those who are illuminated and are indwelt by the Spirit are called by the Spirit (Gal 5:18; Rom. 8:14; Ezek 36:27). The grand security for the perseverance of the saints is the leading of the Spirit. The Baptism of the Spirit is given for leading and service in a far wider manner in comparison to the Old Testament. In the New Testament His function is poured out over the whole covenant community, and in the Old Testament He chose specific people to be more or less anointed for service.

The new Spirit-led ethical actions of the Christian come after regeneration and the indwelling of the Spirit. Christian ethics are an immediate result of the Spirit’s work on the believer. They are never isolated from Christ or the relations of His kingdom and are communicated to Christians by the Spirit through the Word. Love is the principle here, and only through the power of the Spirit can there be true Christian love reflecting Christ (1 Cor.13).

The degree of the Christian’s sanctification and ethics will differ according to the Spirit’s will. Romans 7 gives Christians a glimpse into the real struggle in which every believer fights against sin. They sometimes lose and sometimes win. Ultimately they will be glorified. But the Spirit of grace enables them to fight their way out of every temptation (1 Cor. 10:13) although believers do not always arrest that opportunity to please God and rather, they grieve the Spirit. As Ephesians 4:30 says, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

The Church is the organic completion of the united body to the Head – Jesus Christ. Christ’s cause on the earth is advanced through the Spirit, through individuals who are indwelt by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit joins together every regenerated member of the Church to the Head to create a complete body. The Church of Christ always had office bearers, and was never without office bearers though in different ages these offices differed in respect to their outward administrations. The Church has a twofold function: 1) a holy society in the world maintaining a separation from the world for worship, and 2) a missionary institute with a view to propagate or extend the Gospel to them that are without (1 Peter 2:5; John 15:1-6). There is and has only been one church and one Spirit in the Old Testament and the New Testament. The same Spirit of faith in the New Testament filled believers in the Old Testament (2 Cor. 4:13).

At various points through the history of the church, the Spirit has more or less been seen in operation. For example, there are three main epochs in which the miraculous giftedness of the Spirit worked through the church for the good of the church: 1) in the days of Moses, 2) in the days of Elijah, and 2) in the days of the Messiah and his apostles. At other times, such as the Great Awakenings under the preaching of men like Jonathan Edwards, we find curious outpourings of the Spirit on His people for the purpose of revival and sanctification. In all cases, the mission of the church (to convert souls and proclaim the kingdom) and the primary relationship of the church to Christ (to worship God) have never changed.

In the very earliest literature, in the apostolic Fathers, and in the Epistle of Clemens especially, there are a host of allusions to the Holy Spirit. The circular letter issued by the church of Smyrna after Polycarp’s death is of the same nature. The church has never been afraid to say in its corpus of writings and literature about theological issues, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.”

The doctrine of the Spirit has always been violently attacked by various writers through the centuries, and defended by others who uphold orthodoxy. Though Justin the martyr speaks of the Holy Spirit, Tertullian is the first to use the term “Trinity” dogmatically. The Greek Church was overrun, so to speak, with allusions to the Holy Spirit all through their worship liturgy. This does not mean the Greek Fathers were perfect in their conceptions of the Spirit theologically – far from it. But it does demonstrate that from early second century writings that the Holy Spirit occupied a place of prominence in theological literature.

Though solid teaching on the Holy Spirit abounded in the early church and its literature, so did the heresies. From AD 157-171 the Montanists arose in Mysia, who believed in the continued supernatural gifting of the Holy Spirit upon believers. Sabellius arose around AD 200 and taught that God wore three masks (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) which completely detracted from the reality of a triune God and made out of Him a single entity that deceives through personality schizophrenia. Sabellianism was the first anti-Trinitarian heresy found in the church. In the fourth century it was Arianism that denied the Son and the Spirit as God, and instead, made the Son a created being and the Spirit a force. Arius laid stress on the subordination of the Son and Spirit to the Father, and denied they were coequal. However, the principal assailants of the deity of the Spirit were the Macedonians. They believed the Holy Spirit was a creature that derived its life from Christ. They were brought before the second General Council of which Athanasius was a part, and they were condemned as heretics. The much-needed Council of Constantinople convened in 381 AD and added an addendum to the Nicene Creed. The addendum reads, “And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord, and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spake by the Prophets.”

The arguments surrounding the procession of the Spirit are historically viewed and classified in three epochs: The first epoch was during the rise of Greek theology until the time of Epiphanius. During this time, the Spirit was seen as proceeding from the Father and the Son. The second epoch of Greek theology and encompassing the Council of Ephesus (AD 431) there are statements that the Spirit proceeds from the Father only. Here we find the filioque clause that was debated between the Eastern and Western Church. The Western Church (of which Augustine was part) believed the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son, where the Eastern Greek Church believed He proceeded only from the Father. In the third epoch of controversy there is Photius in the Latin Church (AD 867) who tried to set forth his own ideas that mimicked the Greek church and condemned the Western Church as heretical. In all this, though, the Greeks and Latins were overwhelmed by the teachings of the Western Church by exegesis rather than just attempted human logic. Though they did not change their minds on the subject, the formulated creeds of Christendom teach that the Spirit proceeded from both the Father and the Son. This view, of the Western Church, was that of the magisterial reformers of the 16th century Reformation, and the Puritans and Westminster Confession of Faith in 1648.

In terms of the historical nature of the Spirit’s work, the early fathers often did not set forth the best theology. Chrysostom, for instance, denied the correct order of regeneration then faith, and seemed to draw out a more Arminian teaching than anything else. His view of Christ’s work and the application of it to the believer were defective. It is not until Augustine that we have a more biblical and exegetical understanding of salvation and election, and the application of this by the Holy Spirit. Augustine, in contrast to the British monk Pelagius who opposed sovereign grace, wrote vehemently against Pelagius for the truth. Augustine’s work on free will and the Spirit’s role in man’s will was written against the Manicheans who held to a defective view as well. Augustine’s work on predestination and his anti-Pelagian writings also demonstrate more than adequately the truth of the biblical position of the Sovereign Spirit’s work in the application of redemption to men’s souls. His maxim still stands, “Lord, command what Thou will, but grant to us what Thou commandest.”

Later, after Augustine’s battles with Pelagius, semi-Pelagians taught that man’s sinful nature was inherited from Adam, but was not completely corrupted. This precursor to the Arminian position was refuted and condemned at the Synod of Orange in AD 529.

During the period of the Reformation and later, the term “grace” was used interchangeably with the phrase “the work of the Holy Spirit.” Luther debated Erasmus on this issue surrounding the work of the Spirit when Erasmus wrote his Diatribe and Luther responded with his greatest work The Bondage of the Will. Luther says, “We have need of the Spirit of Christ, without whom all our works are worthy of condemnation.” The Reformed Confessions echo these sentiments. In Article 18 of the Augsburg Confession it states, “they teach that man’s will has some liberty to choose civil righteousness, and to work things subject to reason. But it has no power, without the Holy Ghost, to work the righteousness of God, that is, spiritual righteousness; since the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, 1 Cor. 2,14; but this righteousness is wrought in the heart when the Holy Ghost is received through the Word.” In chapter 12 of the Scottish Confession it states, “Our faith and its assurance do not proceed from flesh and blood, that is to say, from natural powers within us, but are the inspiration of the Holy Ghost; whom we confess to be God, equal with the Father and with his Son.” In point 33 of the Irish Articles it states, “All God’s elect are in their time inseparably united unto Christ by the effectual and vital influence of the Holy Ghost, derived from him as from the head unto every true member of his mystical body. And being thus made one with Christ, they are truly regenerated and made partakers of him and all his benefits.” The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion state, “Wherefore they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God be called according to God’s purpose by His Spirit working in due season; they through grace obey the calling; they be justified freely; they be made sons of God by adoption; they be made like the image of His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ; they walk religiously in good works; and at length by God’s mercy they attain to everlasting felicity.”

The Arminian movement attempted to overthrow the work of the sovereign Spirit by introducing a more refined synergism between man’s will and God’s will in salvation. The Arminian Articles and Opinions read, “No one is rejected from life nor from the means sufficient for it by an absolute antecedent decree,, so that the merit of Christ, calling, and all the gifts of the Spirit can be profitable to salvation for all, and truly are, unless they themselves by the abuse of these gifts pervert them to their own perdition; but to unbelief, to impiety, and to sins, a means and causes of damnation, no one is predestined.” In reaction to this synergistic error that finds no support in the Bible, the Synod of Dort fought for the Sovereign work of the Spirit in the following articles: In Head 3/4:8, “Nevertheless, all who are called through the gospel are called seriously. For seriously and most genuinely God makes known in his Word what is pleasing to him: that those who are called should come to him. Seriously he also promises rest for their souls and eternal life to all who come to him and believe.” Head 3/4:9 states, “The fact that many who are called through the ministry of the gospel do not come and are not brought to conversion must not be blamed on the gospel, nor on Christ, who is offered through the gospel, nor on God, who calls them through the gospel and even bestows various gifts on them, but on the people themselves who are called. Some in self-assurance do not even entertain the Word of life; others do entertain it but do not take it to heart, and for that reason, after the fleeting joy of a temporary faith, they relapse; others choke the seed of the Word with the thorns of life’s cares and with the pleasures of the world and bring forth no fruits. This our Savior teaches in the parable of the sower (Matt. 13).” With other articles (3/4:10-13) they reinforce the same and condemned the doctrines of the Arminians as pestilential heresies and errors, overthrowing the Spirit’s sovereign work.

Amyraldius is worthy of mention as far as heretics go. He attempted to combine both the Calvinistic ideas of the Spirit’s work and the Arminian ideas (or semi-Pelagian) and as a result, created Amyraldianism. He drew a distinction between natural and moral ability so as to place the power of choice back into the hands of the sinner.

The Puritan movement during the 17th century was a pristine time of theological development for the application and work of the Spirit. Rutherford, Blair, Henderson, Owen, Charnock, Goodwin, Howe and others wrote extensively on the work of the Holy Spirit. Owen’s masterpiece, The Work of the Holy Spirit, is one of the best treatises in print on the subject. These men continued the line of Reformation Theology that placed preeminence on the sovereign power of the regenerating work of the Spirit on the believer. Other figures are worthy of noting who wrote extensively on the Spirit, such as Jonathan Edwards in his Religious Affections, and Charles Hodge in his Systematic Theology.

Errors still abound on the work of the Spirit as such writings as Junckheim in Germany (of which they never recovered from his combination of Pelagianism, Arminianism, Amyraldianism and Naturalism all rolled into one), and the Schleiermacher School (which is a refined sort of Sabellianism). Arianism is still active today through the Jehovah’s witnesses, and various other cults such as New Age have turned the Spirit into a force, such as the Manicheans of old. It can be said, though, that no group today has a new angle on heresy. It is simply old heresy drudged up again from ignorant people who have no sense of the theological history of the Church.

There is a practical point to be learned from this overview and study on the Spirit of God. It should lead the Christian to, “Be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18).” Smeaton says, “The apostle is writing to regenerate men who have the Spirit; and when he bids them not be drunk with wine wherein is excess, he takes for granted that he is setting before those to whom the Epistle was sent a source of joy, exhilaration, and comfort to which nothing else could be compared. In the context we find it further noticed in a series of participial clauses, grammatically connected with the injunction. Be filled with the Spirit: that they are further expected to be so animated with joy as to sing and make melody in their hearts to the Lord,—to give thanks always for all things to God and the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ,—and to submit themselves one to another in the fear of God (Eph. v. 20, 21).” Amen.

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