The Holy Ghost as the Spirit of Christ
Before making a few observations as to the significance of the doctrine of the Holy Ghost, it is necessary to give our attention to one more key element of this doctrine, namely, that the Holy Ghost, as the Spirit of Christ, is bestowed upon the church in the new dispensation to dwell in and abide with the church forever. As we mentioned in the beginning of our discussion of Article XI, this is not expressly taught in the article. But as we pointed out then, so we emphasize now: our Confession nevertheless mentions more than once the operations of the Holy Ghost as the Spirit of Christ. And we would not hesitate to say that it is with a view to those operations of the Spirit of Christ in the church and in the believers that our Confession already in Article XI teaches the real Godhead and distinct personality of the Holy Ghost.
And we must remember, too, that exactly in this truth, that the Holy Ghost was given to Christ at His exaltation and bestowed by Christ upon His church on the day of Pentecost, is the key to all the practical, spiritual significance of the doctrine of the Holy Ghost. Without this fact the Holy Ghost remains a Holy Ghost far removed from us, of no living significance for us; and the doctrine of the Holy Ghost becomes a matter of rather abstract theology. Hence, it is of the utmost importance that we consider briefly this final link in the Scriptural truth concerning the Spirit of God. Our Confession tacitly assumes this truth, our Catechism expressly mentions it, and our Canons lay great stress upon the irresistible work of the Spirit in the application of the benefits of Christ to the elect.
It sometimes seems a bit difficult. to understand the distinction that is made between the Holy Ghost as such, as the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, and the Holy Ghost as the Spirit of Christ.
Perhaps we can best begin by stressing the fact that while we make such a distinction, we must take care not to make separation, but to maintain the personal identification between the Holy Ghost and the Spirit of Christ. For it is exactly herein that the beauty and the power of this truth lies. The Holy Ghost of the Spirit of Christ; and the Spirit of Christ is the Holy Ghost, of one and the same essence, majesty, and glory with the Father, and the Son, true and eternal God!
In the second place, while there is this personal identification, there is a distinction as to revelation and operation. We can point this out by means, of a comparison between the Second and Third Persons of the Trinity. In Article X we confess that Jesus Christ is true and eternal God. In Article XI we confess that the Holy Spirit is true and eternal God. But in Article X it is made very clear that it is our Lord Jesus Christ according to His divine nature. We must, therefore, distinguish between the only begotten Son as such, the eternal Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, and the Son incarnate, Who assumes the human nature and tabernacles with men in the human nature. In a somewhat similar way we may distinguish between the Holy Ghost and the Spirit of Christ. They are the same Person. But just as the Second Person was revealed in the fullness of time as our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God incarnate, so the Third Person was revealed on the day of Pentecost as the Spirit of Christ. Just as the Second Person was ordained from all eternity to be the Mediator of our salvation, so the Holy Ghost is in God’s eternal counsel promised to Christ, the Head of the Church, in order that He may be the Spirit of holiness and sanctification as He dwells in the church and may make us partakers of all the benefits of salvation that are in Christ.
We must, of course, be careful with the above comparison, because it applies only up to a certain point. The Second Person became incarnate, assumed the human nature. The Third Person does not assume another nature. But He is given to Christ as the exalted head of His church, and as the Spirit of Christ takes up his abode in the church and in the hearts of believers.
This is the great benefit of Pentecost. A major change took place at that time, a change which must have been very noticeable also to God’s people who lived at the time of the transition from the old to the new dispensation. Before that time the Spirit of God indeed operated unto salvation in the church. But He always operated in and through the law and the shadows of the old dispensation. Just as there was no Word made flesh in the old dispensation, so there was no Spirit of Christ in the old dispensation. Just as, however, there was a shadow-Christ in the old dispensation, so there was a shadow-Spirit in the old dispensation. Or, if you will, just as there was a promised Christ, a Christ-that-was-to-come, in the old dispensation, so there was a Spirit-of-Christ-that-was-to-come in the old dispensation.
In this light we can understand the striking statement of John 7:39 (in its literal rendering): “. . . for the Holy Ghost was not yet; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.” This can never refer to a non-existence of the Holy Ghost before Jesus’ glorification. It cannot even mean that there were no operations of the Holy Ghost unto salvation prior to Jesus’ glorification; for this would be contrary to fact. But it plainly refers to the Holy Ghost as the Spirit of the exalted Christ, Who makes us partakers of all the salvation that is in Christ. He was not yet, could not possibly be yet, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
And the several passages which we have quoted es pecially from John 14 to John 16 also become clear if we keep the above in mind. Take, for example, the well-known words of John 15:26: “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.” Here: 1) It is Christ speaking, promising to send the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, from the Father. 2) It is evident, therefore, that Christ Himself shall first receive this Spirit. And He, the Mediator, having Himself received this Spirit at His exaltation, shall send Him unto His disciples, His church. 3) He shall come as the Spirit of truth. Now if we remember that Christ Himself, according to Scripture, is the way the truth, and the life, it is perfectly evident that Christ is saying in effect that this Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. Moreover, if we remember that the truth stands over against not only the lie, but also over against the shadows, as the reality of God, the God of our salvation, we can understand still more what Christ is saying here. “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” John 1:17. Hence, only when the Word made flesh, full of grace and truth, is fully revealed through the process of His death and exaltation as being “full of grace and truth.”—only then, when all the reality of salvation, has been accomplished, can the Spirit of reality, the Spirit of truth, the Spirit of Christ, come.
The Significance of This Doctrine
From all that we have discussed in connection with this article of our Confession, certain observations concerning the significance of our faith in the Holy Ghost ought to be clear.
In the first place, there is the centrally significant fact that through the Spirit, and that too, as the Spirit of Christ, our covenant fellowship with God is become a reality. It is in the Holy Spirit that the cycle of the covenant life of God Himself is eternally and infinitely perfect and complete. Of the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit, the three Persons of the Trinity live their eternal life of divine friendship in infinite perfection. And thus God is a covenant God in Himself. It is through the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, that our covenant God adopts us as His sons and daughters, and reveals Himself as “a Father unto you.” And when the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit of Christ, is sent into our hearts and makes His abode with us, we also have actual covenant-fellowship with God. God Himself takes up His abode with us in the Spirit. Our sonship in Christ becomes a reality. And having the Spirit of His Son in our hearts, we know our sonship by experience, know and acknowledge the God of our salvation as our Father, and respond with the cry, “Abba, Father.”
In the second place, the indwelling of the Spirit in our hearts is always emphatically the indwelling of the HolySpirit. Hence, He sanctifies us to be members of Christ, “applying unto us that which we have in Christ, namely, the washing away of our sins and the daily renewing of our lives, till we shall finally be presented without spot or wrinkle among the assembly of the elect in life eternal.” (Baptism Form) Even as He is in Himself the Holy Spirit, so His work in the believers is always a sanctifying work. He never dwells in them and operates unto salvation in them, except in the way of holiness, i.e., consecration to the living God and separation from sin. Hence, the calling of the church and of the individual believer, in the consciousness of this indwelling of the Holy Spirit, is ever a calling toholiness. “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, not adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God . . . What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” I Cor. 6:9-11, 19, 20.
In the third place, this doctrine of the Holy Ghost as “true and eternal God” is the deathblow to all Arminian free-willism, whether on the part of the preacher or the hearer. Arminianism always makes salvation dependent on the sinner’s acceptance of Christ. According to the Arminian’s pseudo-gospel, if the sinner will only believe and accept Christ, then the Spirit will come into his heart and give him the re-birth. But the Holy Spirit is God! And as God He is absolutely sovereign and free in His operations. Moreover, His entrance into the heart of the elect sinner, as well as all His saving operations, are efficacious and irresistible. Even as the Word, Christ, is the contents of God’s revelation as the God of our salvation, so the Spirit is the living energy and dynamic of that revelation. Through the Spirit of Christ the Word becomes a savor of life unto life, or a savor of death unto death. No preacher can ever through the power of logic or moral suasion cause his word to be unto salvation or unto damnation. All a preacher can do is proclaim. the Word (and let him be very certain that he proclaims the whole counsel of God!); but it is Christ Himself through His Spirit Who makes His Word powerful unto the salvation of the elect and the damnation of the reprobate. True faith will acknowledge this too, and confess that salvation, from beginning to end, is of the Lord!
Finally, let us not forget that the theological implications of the Second and Third Points of 1924 are such that they not only teach a resistible operation of the Holy Spirit, but also impugn His holiness. For the implications of these points are that the “good work” of the natural man is the good work of the Holy Spirit without its being the work of the natural man at all. The Spirit of God so influences the corrupt nature of the unregenerate that the evil tree brings forth good fruit. But mind you: the Holy Spirit does not renew the heart of the unregenerate! The heart of the natural man remains corrupt. It is filled with enmity against God. Yet the Holy Spirit so influences the nature of the natural man that with a heart full of hatred against God he performs that which is pleasing in the sight of God. How utterly contrary to the holiness of the Holy Spirit!
In the light of all this, the exhortation is not out of place that we must hold fast to this doctrine of the Holy Ghost by a living faith. Let it not be a dead letter in our creed. Let it not be an abstract theory. But let it be a living article of our faith and of our confession!