The Godhead of the Holy Ghost
This article of our Confession speaks not only of the personality of the Spirit and the procession of the Spirit, but also of the true deity, or Godhead, of the Spirit. We probably are inclined more or less to take this truth for granted. But not only is it true that we should beware of taking things for granted, since this is one of the easiest and quickest ways to lose our real hold on the truth; but we must also bear in mind that this cardinal truth has been denied, just as the true divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ has been denied. And, in fact, the errors of the denial of the double procession of the Spirit and of His real personality carry in them implicitly the error of the denial of His Godhead. If you err on the former; you involve yourself in the error of subordinationism, that is, the error that the Holy Ghost is of a lower rank, has less majesty and glory, than the Father or the Son. And this is really a denial of His true and complete divinity.
Hence, our Confession explicitly teaches this doctrine of the deity of the Holy Ghost.
This is already implied in the teaching that the Holy Ghost “from eternity proceeds from the Father and the Son,” in the fist place. For if He is “from eternity,” He is God. In the second place, it is implied negatively in the statement of Article XI that He is neither made, nor created. For He who is untreated is the Self-existent and Self-sufficient God Himself, who has the ground and the source of all His being and life within Himself. And, in the third place, Article XI sets forth this doctrine in so many words when it teaches that the Holy Ghost is “of one and the same essence, majesty and glory with the Father, and the Son,” and concludes with the statement: “and therefore is the true and eternal God, as the Holy Scriptures teach us.” Hence, all that is true of God is true of the Holy Ghost. All that we confess in Article I concerning God we also confess concerning the Holy Ghost. The Being of the Holy Ghost is “the one only simple and spiritual Being, which we call God.” And the Holy Ghost is “eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, immutable, infinite, almighty, perfectly wise, just, good, and the overflowing fountain of all good.” He possesses all the divine attributes, or virtues, equally with the Father and the Son.
Again, our Confession does not adduce specific proof from Scripture, but simply makes the general statement, “as the Holy Scriptures teach us.” This expression must not be ignored or shrugged off, as though in our Confession we, or the author, are too much in a hurry to produce this proof, or as though this is an easy way of evading the duty of proving this doctrine from Scripture. This is not the idea. Rather, in the first place, this statement points again to the complete dependence of our Confession upon Scripture, without which no confession has any authority. We believe and confess this doctrine only because the Holy Scriptures teach it. And only in so far as the doctrine of our Confession is the doctrine of Scripture does the Confession have any value. In the second place, this-makes it incumbent upon us to know where and how the Scriptures teach this doctrine. It simply will not do that we have some kind of vague idea that the Scriptures teach a doctrine while we have no definite knowledge of the Scriptural proofs. This can never be emphasized enough in the church today, both for ourselves and our children. Certainly, our confessions must be acknowledged; and we ought not to be ashamed that we are a confessing and aconfessional church. But the surest way to lose our heritage is to become guilty of that brand of dead confessionalism that has no real knowledge of the Scriptural character of our confessions, and that is unable to give account of the Scriptural basis for the doctrines confessed. How many of us, and how many of our catechumens, are able to furnish such proof from Scripture for the doctrine of the deity of the Holy Ghost? Here is one of the most elementary of the cardinal doctrines of the church. And yet would not a good many Reformed Christians today become rather flustered and probably “hem-and-haw” if called upon to show that Scripture teaches it?
Hence, let us briefly review a few of the Scriptural proofs, in order that we may say with all our heart, “as the Holy Scriptures teach us.”
In the first place, divine names are ascribed to the Holy Ghost: He is called God in Scripture. Of this there is a very clear proof in the book of Acts, chapter 5. And this proof illustrates and emphasizes at the same time the dread seriousness of the fact that the Holy Ghost is very God Himself. It does so because it emphasizes the fact that in the church the Holy Ghost, as the Spirit of Christ, dwells, and that this Spirit Who dwells in the church is very God! In all the life and activity and function of the church, therefore, men .stand in very close proximity and relationship to and responsibility before God Himself. We can really do or say nothing in the church without touching the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit that indwells the church, the Spirit who is true and eternal God: so close we are to Him! The incident in Acts 5 is that of Ananias and Sapphira, who in the days of the early New Testament church sold a possession, kept back part of the selling price for themselves, brought the rest and laid it at the apostles’ feet (as the practice was in the days when believers had all things in common), and pretended that they were giving the whole price, and thus performing a Spirit-led good work, as did many true believers at that time. To sell one’s land and lay the money at the apostles’ feet was certainly a good work, one that could be performed only out of a love that was the fruit of the indwelling Spirit of Christ. This was the work performed by that Levite from Cyprus, Barnabas. Nor was it wrong as such, to bring only part of the money to the apostles. The apostle Peter even mentions this in verse 4, namely, that it was their own money and in their own power, to do with as they saw fit. But covetously and greedily to keep back a part of the money and to tell the church by word and action that they brought all the money to the apostles was the very heinous sin of lying not merely to men, but to and against the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Ghost, God Himself. It was pretending to do a work that was the fruit of the Spirit while they actually performed a work of the devil. It is in this light that we must understand Peter’s severe castigation of Ananias and Sapphira, as also the dreadful punishment that was visited upon them so promptly. And it is thus, too, that we must understand the fact that “great fear came upon all the church.” This, briefly, is the narrative in Acts 5:1-11. Hence, it is no mere cold, dogmatic fact that is stated here concerning the deity of the Holy Ghost, but a very awesome, living truth: “But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? While it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.” vss. 3, 4. And again, to Sapphira the apostle says: “How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord?” vs. 9.
In the second place, divine attributes are ascribed to the Holy Ghost. In Psalm 139:7-10 the attribute of omnipresence is ascribed to Him, as follows: “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.” Also the attribute of divine knowledge is attributed to Him. Thus, in I Corinthians 2:10, 11we read: “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.” The same truth is taught in Isaiah 40:13, 14: “Who hath directed the spirit of the Lord, or being his counselor hath taught him? With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and shewed to him the way of understanding?” The attribute of eternity is ascribed to Him in Hebrews 9:14: “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” The divine power and will to impart all the spiritual gifts mentioned in I Corinthians 12:7-10 is attributed to the Spirit in vs. 11: “But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.” And in Romans 15:19 the apostle attributes the divine power (the attribute of omnipotence) to the Holy Spirit, as follows: “Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God . . . . .”
Several passages of Scripture, in the third place, attribute peculiarly divine works to the Spirit. Thus, the work of creation is ascribed to Him in the following passages: Genesis 1:2: “And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” Psalm 33:6: “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath (spirit) of his mouth.” Psalm 104:30: “Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth.” Moreover, He is the Spirit of life and the author of the resurrection, according to Scripture. In Romans 8:2 we read: “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” And in verse 11 we read: “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” He is the Spirit of the rebirth: “Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” John 3:5. And He is the Spirit of adoption, Romans 8:15: “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.”
Finally, divine honors are ascribed to Him. For it is in the name of the Holy Ghost, as well as the name of the Father and the Son that we are baptized: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Matthew 28:19. And it is through the Spirit that the blessings of salvation are bestowed upon the church: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost be with you all.” II Corinthians 13:14.
In the light of the above passages it is abundantly evident that our Confession is correct when it says: “of one and the same essence, majesty and glory with the Father, and the Son: and therefore, is the true and eternal God, as the Holy Scriptures teach us.”
Nor is this an insignificant truth, but full of real significance for the church today, as we hope to point out next time.