At least in some measure the confusion in the church over the special gifts of the Spirit and the so-called second blessing have risen because of a failure to understand what Scripture means when it speaks of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ. This failure is, at bottom, a failure to understand the distinction which Scripture makes between the Holy Spirit as the third Person of the Trinity, on the one hand, and as the Spirit of Christ, on the other hand. This mistake is very clearly evident in Edwin Palmer’s book, “The Person and Ministry of the Holy Spirit.” We quote from pp. 20, 21.
In this world there are special functions and works performed by each Person of the Trinity in distinction from the other two. When we think of creation, for example, we think chiefly of the Father, and not of the Son or the Holy Spirit . . . . And when we think of sanctification and the working out of salvation in our lives, we do not think chiefly of the Father, nor the Son, but of the Holy Spirit. He is the one who dwells within the Christian. In fact, it is because of the neglect of these distinctions that some people who are in anxiety and distress go to the Father or Christ for comfort, when, in reality, they could go to the Holy Spirit, who is the Holy Comforter.
A view such as this leads, if carried logically to its conclusion, to Tritheism, which teaches that there are three God’s. And it certainly is contrary to Scripture to say that we must go to the Holy Spirit in times of anxiety, for the Scriptures repeatedly command us to go to God when we are “in anxiety and distress.” The Psalms contain innumerable references to this very truth. But the mistake lies in failing to distinguish between the Holy Spirit as the third Person of the Trinity and the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ. And it is important that we pay close attention to this distinction.
In order to understand it, we must, first of all, say a bit about another distinction which Scripture makes which is related to this one. I refer to the distinction Scripture makes between the second Person of the Trinity and our Lord Jesus Christ. H. Hoeksema speaks at some length concerning this distinction in his “Reformed Dogmatics” in connection with his discussion of “The Pactum Salutis.” We quote from p. 312.
Fact is that in the interpretation of these and similar texts (which have been used to support an erroneous idea of the “counsel of peace,” H.H.) we may never lose sight of the distinction between the Person of the Son in the divine nature and the Person of the Son in the human nature. In His human nature the Son is subordinate to God as His Father. In the divine nature He is co-equal with the Father. In His human nature He stands in relation to God as one that is sent stands to one that sends him. In His divine nature He is, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, Sender, not Sent. His human will is subordinate to the will of the Father. But in His divine will He is One with the Father and the Holy Spirit. In
the Savior does not speak according to His divine, but according to His human nature. He stands there as the Servant of the Lord, Who is not come to do His own will, but the will of Him that sent Him. That this doing of the will of the Father includes the incarnation itself, and that Christ also under the old dispensation was Mediator and appears as such does not alter the case. It simply means that this Mediator’s relation, this relation of the Servant of His Lord, of the One that is sent to His Sender, is determined in God’s eternal counsel, and that also in this respect all the works of God are known unto Him from eternity. If, however, there is indeed a covenant of peace between the Three Persons of the divine Trinity, this covenant must needs stand behind the relation wherein Christ stands as the One that is sent to His Sender.
Hoeksema has a great deal more to say about this, especially as it relates to the truth of the covenant. But the point here is that we must distinguish between the second Person of the Trinity and Christ. The distinction is not a personal distinction. The Person of our Lord Jesus Christ is the Person of the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity. But although the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ is the second Person of the holy Trinity, Christ is this second Person of the Trinity in our flesh, in which flesh He united perfectly the divine nature to the human nature in His own divine Person. Within the Trinity, Christ is very God of very God. He is the second Person Who, with the Father and Spirit, is the one true God, one in essence and three in Persons. But the second Person of the Trinity, while remaining God, became man and dwelt among us. He did this as the fulfillment of God’s counsel in which God eternally purposed to make redemption for His people through His Son become flesh.
We cannot go into this matter now, for it would carry us too far away from our subject. But permit me this parenthesis at any rate. This distinction is crucial for an understanding of Scripture. All the works of God, including creation, redemption, and sanctification are works which the triune God performs through Christ and by means of the Spirit of Christ. And only when this crucial distinction is made and clearly understood can we also come to a proper understanding of the covenant of grace and of Christ as the Head of the covenant. In fact, it was this crucial point, with all that it implies, which was, in my judgment, one of the chief contributions which Rev. Hoeksema made to covenant theology and to the Reformed faith as a whole.
However that may be, this same distinction must be applied to the Holy Spirit. And we cannot properly understand the work of the Holy Spirit without understanding this distinction.
There is an important passage in John 7 which clearly sets this forth. I refer to John 7:37-39: “In the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)”
Now, it is especially to the expression in the above verses, “for the Holy Ghost was not yet given, I that I refer. If you will consult your Bibles (KJV), you will discover that the word “given” in that text is printed in italics. This means that it was added by the translators, but does not appear in the Greek in which the New Testament was originally written. In other words, according to the Greek, the text reads, “For the Holy Ghost was not yet.” Now, it is very clear from this that the apostle John, under the inspiration of the Spirit, means to say, “There was no Holy Spirit as yet. He did not as yet exist.” And the reason for this is: “Because that Jesus was not yet glorified.” The Holy Ghost could not exist until such a time as Jesus was glorified.
That surely strikes us as a strange statement. We might even be tempted to say that such a passage as this denies the eternity of the Spirit. We might want to take issue with the text and remind John that, after all, the Holy Spirit is also true God; that God is eternal; and that, therefore, the Holy Spirit also is eternal. The Holy Spirit always was, always is, and always shall be. How then is it possible to say, “The Holy Spirit was not yet?”
It is, however, possible to say this in the same sense in which it is possible to say that Christ, before His birth of the virgin Mary, “was not yet.” There was no Christ prior to His birth, for the Old Testament church lived, not in the reality of His presence, but in the hope of His coming. So it is true of the Holy Spirit.
We must make a distinction between the Holy Spirit as the third Person of the Trinity and the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ. Once again, this is not to be construed as a personal distinction, for the Person of the Spirit of Christ is indeed the third Person of the holy Trinity. But the Holy Spirit as the third Person of the Trinity becomes the Spirit of Christ at the time of Christ’s ascension when the Spirit is given to Christ as a reward for His perfect work. This is why Peter, in his powerful sermon on the day of Pentecost, says, “Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear” (Acts 2:33). At the time of His ascension, God fulfilled His promise in Christ in giving to Christ the Holy Spirit as His own. This Spirit Christ poured out on His church on Pentecost.
All of this does not mean that there was no manifestation of the Spirit of Christ in the Old Testament. Indeed there was. But, it must be remembered, there was also a manifestation in the Old Testament of Christ. Every time the Old Testament Scriptures speak of the “Angel of Jehovah” the Scriptures speak of Him, in distinction from other angelic appearances, as divine (see, e.g., such passages as Gen. 16:7-14, 19:24, 32:24-32). And the reference is to the old dispensational manifestation of Christ. The same is true of the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit of Christ, while not given to the church as a whole, nevertheless was given to those who were anointed to the special offices of prophet, priest, and king in Israel (see such passages as Isaiah 61:1-3, I Peter 1:11, etc.). In fact, without the old dispensational manifestation of the Spirit of Christ, the prophets would not have been able to speak and write their prophecies of Christ which fill the Old Testament-Scriptures. This is clear from what Peter writes in the passage referred to above: “Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow” (I Peter 1:10, 11).
Nevertheless, in all His fullness, the Spirit was given to Christ when Christ ascended into heaven. And that Spirit, given to Christ, Christ pours out upon His church on the day of Pentecost so that now every believer receives that Spirit in all His fullness. And that Spirit abides with the church forever—i.e., not only to the end of the world when Christ comes again, but into all eternity in heavenly glory.
Through the Spirit as the Spirit of Christ, Christ becomes all that He is in Himself and all that He has received through His glorious and perfect work for the church. We can mention only briefly what that implies.
Through the Spirit of Christ as His own Spirit, the church becomes one with Christ, united to Him in mystical union as His body. This is very real. We arethe body of Christ. We are related to Him as the branches are related to the vine (John 15:1-8). We are so much a part of His body that we are the members of the same body of which Christ is the Head (Eph. 5:23, I Cor. 12:12ff.). We are so closely united to Christ that we become with Him one flesh, of which marriage is a picture (Eph. 5:30-32). We are a part of His glorified human nature, united spiritually to Him to become one with Him. This is possible only because of the Spirit of Christ, given to Him at His ascension and given to us by His grace.
Through the Spirit of Christ we are brought into covenant fellowship with Christ, and through Christ, with God. Christ is the temple of God in Whom God dwells bodily (Col. 2:9); but we, as the members of that body of Christ, dwell in fellowship with God, such perfect fellowship in fact that Peter does not hesitate to say that we are partakers of the divine nature (II Peter 1:4). Hence, our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 6:19). Christ is the Head of the covenant; through His Spirit we are taken into that covenant so that in Christ and through the Spirit we have everlasting fellowship with the Triune God, the God of our salvation.
Thus, all the blessings of salvation, which Christ earned on the cross and with which He was filled in His glorious exaltation, are given to us through the work of the Spirit in our hearts. We are blessed richly and everlastingly as the Spirit of Christ gives to us all that is in Christ. And it is for this reason, too, that salvation is by grace. It is God’s work, the triune God’s work, through Christ and by means of Christ’s Spirit.