The Procession of the Spirit (continued)
As to Scriptural proof for the doctrine of the double procession of the Holy Spirit, we may call attention to several passages. In John 14:16, 17 we read: “And 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.” This passage is the more significant in connection with verse 18: “I (that is, Christ, the Son) will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” In John 14:26 the following occurs: “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 14:23 has the plain implication that the Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and of the Son; for there we read that through the Comforter, the Holy Ghost, both Father and Son have their abode with us: “Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” And in John 1526 we find more proof that both the Father and the Son send the Comforter, the Holy Ghost, and that therefore He proceeds from both the Father and the Son: “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.” In Romans 8:9 the Holy Spirit is mentioned in one breath as the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ: “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” In Galatians 4:6 He is called the Spirit of God’s Son: “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” And in Philippians 1:19 He is called the Spirit of Jesus Christ: “For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” In all these passages, therefore, the underlying supposition, if not the direct teaching, is that the Holy Ghost is both the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, and that therefore He proceeds from both. It was this doctrine which the church of the East was not willing to confess. The most that they were willing to say was that the Holy Ghost proceeded from the Father through the Son. Nor must we imagine that this was an innocent difference. For this controversy goes back in history to the time of the Arian conflict, when the true Godhead and equality of the Three Persons of the Trinity was in question, and when not deny the deity of the Son was denied, but also the deity of the Holy Ghost. It is true, of course, that the passages above cited refer not directly to the inter-relationship of the Three Persons within the divine Being, but rather to the sending and procession of and indwelling of the Holy Ghost as the Spirit of the exalted Christ, as has frequently been pointed out. Nevertheless, not only must we remember that Christ Himself is the Son of God, as taught in the preceding article, and that therefore as soon as you say that the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, you are saying that He is the Spirit of the Son; but it must also be remembered that what God is in relation to His church in time, He is in Himself from eternity to eternity, and that the eternal background of the procession of the Spirit as the Spirit of Christ into the church is the procession of the Spirit as the Spirit of the Father and the Son within the Holy Trinity.
This brings us to the importance of the doctrinal cleavage between East and West on this score. As already suggested above, the necessary consequence, in the first place, of the denial of the double procession is Arianism and subordinationism, the denial of the equality of the Three Persons of the Godhead. This is in itself serious enough.
But, in the second place, the practical results of this denial of the double procession are plain to see. It is simply a fact of history that the movement of the church in history has been ever westward, and that as far as the main stream of the life of the church in history is concerned, the Eastern Church has been left behind. This is one of the historic results of the separation that became final in the eleventh century. And not only has the Eastern Church been historically separate and largely out of the picture, so to sheik, but the theological and spiritual status of the Eastern Church coincides with its historical position. As far as theological vitality and development is concerned, the Eastern Church is for the most part sterile and characterized by dead orthodoxy. And as far as spiritual life is concerned, there is a strong current of mysticism. The work of the Spirit is separated from that of the Son. This is a fundamental error, of course. The Father does not work directly in the hearts of God’s people through the Spirit, but always through the Mediator, our Lord Jesus Christ. All the riches of salvation and life, of righteousness and holiness and knowledge of God, of the forgiveness of sins and justification, of the new life and sanctification, are in Christ Jesus; and apart from Him they cannot come into the possession of the church, the elect body of Christ. And the relation is never such that the Spirit testifies of Himself, apart from Christ. But as the Lord Himself says, John 16:13-15: “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you.” And the fundamental error of the mysticist is that he denies this relationship between the work of the Spirit and the work of Christ, the Son. He speaks rather of the work of the Spirit and of his own “experiences” than of the work of Christ. According to the mysticist, the Holy Spirit visits the believers separately from Christ, and, therefore, separately from the Scriptures, the revelation of Christ. And accordingly, of course, the Holy Spirit is presented as working individualistically, apart from the body of Christ and the communion of saints and the means of grace. This error has plagued the Eastern Church. But,—and this is nearer home,—it is the same error that characterizes all mysticism in one degree or another. Hence, if we cleave fast, both in doctrine and practice, to the truth concerning the interrelationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, both within the Trinity and in the revelation of the Triune God in the work of salvation, we shall be guarded against false mysticism.
The Personality of the Spirit
Our Confession states that the Holy Ghost “in order is the third person of the Holy Trinity.” Here, therefore, is the confession of the personality of the Spirit. In connection with the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, this distinct personality must be emphasized. In the case of the doctrine of the Son, this is not so much necessary, because it is not denied. The question was not whether the Son, Jesus Christ, ispersonal, but whether He is a divine Person. With the doctrine of the Holy Spirit this is different. From of old it has been denied that the Spirit is a distinct Person within the divine Being. It has been taught that He is no more than an impersonal power or influence proceeding from God. And this is serious, for the denial of His personality is not only in general a denial of the Trinity by implication, but it simply means that the Holy Spirit is not real at all. He is nothing but a vague power or influence, as passing and indefinable as the exercise of that power or influence. Moreover, it stands to reason that with the denial of His distinct personality the denial of His Godhead goes hand in hand. For if He is not a Person, He is not God either. He is no one. He is an “it” rather than a “He.” The Holy Spirit is very really an individual subsistence in a rational, moral nature. In the one, spiritual nature of God He is a distinct subject, one that says “I.” He is “third in order,” not indeed in time or in rank. He does not come later than the Father and the Son. Nor is He of lesser majesty and glory than either the Father or the Son. But He proceeds from the Father and the Son.
That the Holy Spirit is personal is very plainly taught in Scripture, In the first place, while the Greek term for spirit is neuter (pneuma), the Scriptures never refer to the Holy Spirit by the pronoun “it,” but always by “he.” In the second place, the Scriptures always ascribe to the Holy Spirit personal attributes when they speak of Him and His operations. This is not difficult to show. First of ail, all the passages which we cited in connection with the procession of the Spirit also present Him as a real Person. Thus, for example, He is the Comforter, not merely an impersonal comfort or comforting influence. He is the One who cries in our hearts, “Abba, Father.” Secondly, there are many other passages which ascribe to Him personal attributes and works. He has the attributes of intellect and will. For, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God bath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” I Cor. 2:9, 10. And again, I Cor. 2:13: “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” Both these passages presuppose the attribute of intellect, or understanding. And the attribute of will is ascribed to the Spirit in I Corinthians 12:11: “But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.” As to works which are plainly personal, we call attention to the following passages of Scripture. He teaches, I Cor. 2:13 (cited above). He searcheth, I Cor. 2:10 (also cited previously). He is grieved and He seals, Ephesians 4:30: “And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” He has communion, or fellowship, II Cor. 13:14: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.” He makes intercession, Romans 8:26, 27: “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. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” Me speaks and separates men unto the ministry, Acts 13:2: “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” And again, Acts 13:4: “So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost . . .” He convicts the world, John 16:8: “And when he is come, (that is, the Comforter, cf. vs. 7), he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” Hence, there can be no doubt that Scripture always presents the Holy Ghost as a distinct Person of the Trinity.