Question 53. What dost thou believe concerning the Holy Ghost?
Answer. First, that He is true and co-eternal God with the Father and the Son; secondly, that He is also given me, to make me by a true faith, partaker of Christ and all His benefits, that He may comfort me and abide with me forever.
Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 20.
“I believe in the Holy Ghost.”
Precious jewels often come in small packages. It immediately impresses us that our Catechism is so very brief on this very important subject. Our second impression is, that it says so much in such few words. Rick truths, deep mysteries of salvation are unfolded for our comfort.
The first question in my very first catechism book read: How many Gods are there? To which I was taught to answer: There is only one God. The second question read: How many persons are there in God? We answered: Three, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Ever since, we have been making the same confession every time the Apostles’ Creed is read or recited.
The Trinity forms the basic truth in our Creed. We confess the triune God as the God of our salvation in Jesus Christ. I like to conceive of this confession in this way: The triune God as our Father is the Creator of heaven and earth. This triune God came into our flesh in the person of the Son, Jesus Christ, Who suffered, died, arose, and is gone into glory, from whence He will return as Judge in the last day. The triune God bestows His Spirit upon the exalted Christ, Who, in turn, pours the Spirit out upon us, His Church. By the Spirit Christ gathers, defends, and preserves His church; grants to us, its members, the communion of saints and the forgiveness of sins; and will ultimately raise our mortal bodies to take us unto Himself, to share His fellowship and His life in glory forever.
Whether our fathers understood the Apostles’ Creed in that way, or not, this is certainly the underlying thought in this Lord’s Day on the Holy Spirit. Above this Lord’s Day I read, “Of God the Holy Ghost.” And then I immediately notice that this heading covers all the rest of the Creed. Moreover, little is said about the person of the Holy Spirit, for all the emphasis falls on His work as Spirit of Christ in the church, in me.
We can appreciate that personal approach. No fewer than five times I am referred to as a personal believer. This is no abstract doctrine. Here we meet the living truth of the living God, the God of our salvation, Whom we confess in all the riches of His grace bestowed on us, that we may live with Him and glorify Him forever.
The Spirit of God.
“We all believe with the heart and confess with the lips that there is one only simple and spiritual Being which we call God” (The Netherlands Confession, art. 1). “In the beginning GOD created the heaven and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). “Hear, O Israel, Jehovah our God is one Jehovah” (Deut. 6:4). “There is none other God but one” (I Cor. 8:4). Moreover, there are within that one divine being three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
From this it is evident that the Spirit is not a mere power proceeding from God, but He is very God. Although He is often referred to as the third person of the Trinity in distinction from the first and second person, He is co-equal with both the Father and the Son. He also is Almighty, Omnipresent, Righteous, Holy, filled with Grace and Truth. Ananias and Sapphira sinned against Him. He can be grieved. He can be offended. To sin against Him is to commit the unpardonable sin. In one word, He is God.
We know Him by His many names. He is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father, the Spirit of the Son, the Spirit of Life, the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of Truth, the Comforter. There are even more names. By these names we can know Him and speak about Him.
He is the Spirit of the Father, for He is eternally breathed forth from the Father upon the Son. (Spirit means breath.) He is also the Spirit of the Son, for He is breathed forth from the Son upon the Father. Thus He proceeds from the Father to the Son within the divine Being, and from the Son to the Father, so that Father and Son meet in Him. We have a faint reflection of that in our family life. A family generally consists of father, mother, and child. Father and mother find their own likeness, their unity and fellowship in the child. Thus God lives an eternal, glorious covenant life of intimate friendship in the Spirit, Who searches out the deep things of God. He is the HOLY Spirit, devoted in all that He does to the glory of God.
This Spirit is the Spirit of Life. The first verses of Genesis 1 tell us that the Spirit moved (hovered over, brooded) upon the face of the waters. Creation is the work of Almighty God, proceeding from the Father, carried out by the Son, the Word, and through the Holy Spirit, Who moved upon the waters. In that same chapter we are told that the triune, covenant God covenants within His own being to make man in His own image (verse 26). This is our Father’s world. For He not only created all things in the beginning, but continues to uphold and govern all things according to His eternal purpose. God does this through Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of Christ. For the whole course of history serves to bring us as His covenant people into His glory in Christ Jesus. At the holy conception the Spirit comes upon Mary, overshadows her and forms within her the Babe Jesus, God born of God. This Spirit filled Christ during His earthly ministry, equipping Him to carry out the divine program unto our salvation. On Calvary the Father lays His Son upon the altar, the Son surrenders Himself even unto death, and the Holy Spirit sustains Him until all is accomplished. God raised up Jesus by the Spirit, for the Spirit is always and in all things the Spirit of Life.
He is also the Spirit of Christ. When Christ ascended to heaven He again received the Spirit to equip Him for His task as Lord of Glory in the heavens. The Son of God in our flesh now has a Name above all names, with all power entrusted to Him in heaven, on earth, and unto the depths of hell. The Spirit of God Who qualifies Him for that work is now the Spirit of Christ as He was given to the church on Pentecost.
Our Catechism teaches us to confess, “He is also given me.” Will we ever realize fully what that gift means to us on this side of eternity? God is given to me! God comes to dwell in our hearts, to make His abode in us, to unite us to Him in covenant fellowship, to bless us, and to fill our hearts with joy and praise!
In a sense, that was true already in the old dispensation. God walked and talked with Adam and Eve in paradise. After the fall God spoke through angels, and through visions or dreams. God dwelled in the Most Holy Place, first in the tabernacle, later in the temple. The Spirit of God worked mightily in the prophets, in the priests, and in the kings, that each could function in their appointed offices. The Spirit of Christ made it possible for Enoch to walk with God, for Noah to find favor in the sight of God, and for Abraham to be God’s friend.
This Spirit of Christ now works in a far richer measure in His elect. In answer to our Lord’s intercession in the sanctuary, God bestows on Christ every blessing of salvation, which He, in turn bestows on us by His Spirit. The Spirit comes to dwell in us, renewing us, applying the Scriptures to us, bringing us to faith, to conversion, and unto the riches of grace in Christ Jesus. As the Good Shepherd Christ knows His sheep, He calls them by name, and they come to Him, to be led by Him into the eternal sheepfold in glory.
The Spirit dwells in us as the Spirit of adoption. “Because ye are sons (already from eternity and on the cross), God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father” (Gal. 4:6). Though our conscience condemns us, we are assured by the Spirit that we are reconciled to God by the death of the cross and have received the right to be sons of God and heirs of eternal life. Powerfully the Spirit cries until He teaches us to cry in child-like assurance: Abba, loving Father! Our Catechism adds, “He is given me, to make me by a true faith, partaker of Christ and all His benefits.” We are made members of the Body of Christ. The life of Christ pulsates in our souls. By faith we know that God is our Father, Whom we love, in Whom we put all our trust, to devote ourselves to Him with our whole being. Although sin still wars in this body of sin and death, we are more than conquerors, for we are sons of God, princes and heirs, joint heirs with Christ, now to suffer a bit, that we may be glorified with Him forever.
Before Jesus ascended to heaven He promised His disciples and us, “I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever” (John 14:16). Another Comforter? It would seem that Jesus intended to replace Himself with Another. For example, a father might leave his family and assure them, I am going away, never to return, but I will see to it that all your needs are supplied by someone who will take my place. Not so. Our Lord informs His disciples that He must leave them in His earthly form, in order to come to them in a better, permanent form. He does not leave us comfortless (like orphans), but He has returned to us in the person of the Holy Spirit to dwell with us and to abide with us forever.
Once Christ was among us; now He dwells within us. Then we saw Him with our earthly eyes in our likeness, now we see Him with the eye of faith, see Him crowned with glory and honor in the heavens. Then He left us in order to prepare a place for us where He is, now He is drawing us unto Himself that we may share His glory to the praise of the Father.
We have an Advocate in the heavens, Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is our surety in the sanctuary. And we also have an Advocate within us, even the Spirit of Christ as the Spirit of Truth, Who leads us into all truth. He convicts of sin, humbles us and brings us to repentance, but also assures us of forgiveness by the mercies of Christ. He teaches us to pray, so that our real prayers are born out of the Spirit. And when we cannot pray as we ought, He intercedes for us with groanings that reach into the heart of God. He saves, He delivers, He protects and defends us, even until the day of our complete salvation!
I believe. I believe in God the Father. I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son, our Lord. And I believe in the Holy Spirit. Through faith I am assured in all the trials of this present time, that I am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, with body and soul, now and even unto all eternity. Glory be to our God!
* I prefer to speak of the Holy Spirit instead of the Holy Ghost.