We believe and confess also, that the Holy Ghost, from eternity, proceeds from the Father, and Son; and therefore neither is made, created, nor begotten, but only proceedeth from both; who in order is the third person of the Holy Trinity; 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.
The Belgic Confession, Article XI
This Article marks the conclusion of the Creed’s treatment of the doctrine of God (Theology). In this section the Reformed believers confess: “That God is one in Essence, yet nevertheless distinguished in three Persons.” (Articles VIII, IX); “That Jesus Christ is true and eternal God.” (Article X); and now: “That the Holy Ghost is true and eternal God.” (Article XI). While the Article is very brief (also by comparison with the others in this section of the Confession), it does capture beautifully the doctrine of the Holy Spirit as this is taught in the Word of God. The Article teaches that the Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity, that” He is a Person, that He proceeds from the Father and the Son, and that He is very God. This doctrine of the Holy Spirit as taught in Scripture and summed up in this article of the Creed is very significant not only for the faith of the Church but also for its life. This truth has been the subject of no little dispute in the Church from its earliest history. In fact it was largely over the doctrine of the Holy Spirit (especially His procession from the Father and the Son, filioque) that the “Great Schism” between East and West, the Greek and the Latin Church took place in 1054. And this truth has taken on added significance in recent years on account of the influential (unfortunately even among Churches of the Reformed tradition) errors of neo-Pentecostalism. It is important that we examine this truth in the light of the Scriptures so that we may clearly understand “what we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths” concerning the Holy Spirit.
THE HOLY SPIRIT PROCEEDS FROM THE FATHER AND THE SON
This doctrine the article emphasizes with the words: “We believe and confess also, that the Holy Ghost, from eternity, proceeds from the Father and Son; and therefore neither is made, created, nor begotten, but only proceedeth from both. . .” The article states that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. This means that the Holy Spirit is neither made nor created by the Father; rather, He proceeds from the Father and the Son. It also means that the Holy Spirit is not begotten as the Son is begotten of the Father. In this respect the Holy Spirit is personally distinct from both the Father and the Son. And this is the personal property of the Holy Spirit. This, namely that He proceeds from the Father and the Son and is neither made, created, nor begotten, distinguishes the Holy Spirit from both the Father and the Son. His name, Holy Spirit, expresses this personal property. The Holy Spirit is literally “breathed forth” from the Father and the Son and in this way proceeds from them both. Thus, what was confessed in Article VIII concerning the personal properties of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, is explained with reference to the third Person.
Further, this article stresses that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. This does not mean that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both as two Spirits, the Spirit of the Father and the Spirit of the Son. As one Holy Spirit He proceeds from the Father to the Son and is breathed forth from the Son to the Father. Thus, in the Spirit, God triune enjoys the perfect fellowship of His Own divine Being.
This doctrine of the Holy Spirit was developed rather early in the history of the New Testament Church in connection with the doctrines of the Trinity and of Christ. There were those (many of the Arians) who denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit. He was considered a Person but not true and eternal God. The Holy Spirit was said to be the creation of God and of lower order than the Son. The Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) only declaring: “We believe in the Holy Spirit,” said nothing definite concerning the matter. In 381 the Council of Constantinople contributed a bit more by saying: “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the lord and giver of life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, Who has spoken through the prophets.” But, as one readily notices from the above quotation, the Council said nothing of the place of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity, and His relationship to the Father and the Son. This whole point became the subject of very sharp controversy. The controversy really focused on the question of the word, “filioque“, “and the Son.” The question was, did the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father only, or from both the Father and the Son? The Synod of Toledo (A.D. 589) officially settled the question in favor of the word, “filioque,” “and the Son.” The controversy and resultant unrest continued, however, to plague the Church for centuries and finally issued in the Schism between the Greek (Eastern) and Latin (Western) Churches in 1054. The former denies double procession while the latter teaches this truth.
The Scriptures clearly teach this truth of double procession in many passages. Scripture speaks of the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of your Father” (Matthew 10:20) and as “the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:19). Jesus promised that He would pray the Father: “and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth. . .” (John 14:16, 17). The Savior in this same chapter told the disciples that the Father would send the comforter “in my name” (verse 26). Thus in the Spirit both the Father and the Son make their abode with us. (John 14:23). Finally, in this connection, Jesus said concerning the Holy Spirit (The Comforter): “. . . whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.” (John 15:26) These and other passages teach that both Father and Son send the Holy Spirit.
THE HOLY SPIRIT IS A PERSON
The Confession speaks of this when it says of the Spirit: “. . . in order the third Person of the Holy Trinity. . . .” That the Holy Spirit is: “in order the third Person of the Holy Trinity,” does not mean He is inferior in rank or in glory and majesty to the Father and the Son. That our Confession cannot mean that is obvious from the words: “of one and the same essence, majesty and glory with the Father and the Son.” The “in order” simply refers to the fact that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.
Of greater danger is the tendency to disregard the personality of the Holy Spirit and to think of Him as an “influence” or “power.” Certain heretics especially of the ancient church persisted in referring to the Holy Spirit as an impersonal power or influence. Those who know the Word of God know better. The term “Spirit” in Scripture is neuter but the Bible always uses the masculine pronoun in reference to the Spirit and never is the Spirit called “it” in Scripture. Our Saviour promised the “Comforter”; not merely comfort to the church. (John 14:26; John 15:26; John 16:7) Besides, personal characteristics are ascribed to the Spirit by Scripture. The Holy Spirit creates (Gen. 1:2); strives with the spirit of man (Gen. 6:3); teaches Christ’s disciples what they ought to say (Luke 12:12); brings to their remembrance the Savior’s words (John 14:26); convicts the world in respect of sin and righteousness and judgment (John 16:8); commands (Acts 8:29); raises the dead (Rom. 8:11); makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered (Rom. 8:26). None of these gracious activities can be ascribed to mere power. They are personal and assure us that God as the Holy Spirit works with and in the hearts of His people. In the Spirit, God in Christ lives with us and deals with us in a profoundly personal way, and this is our comfort. The Lord never leaves or forsakes His people.
THE HOLY SPIRIT IS VERY GOD
“Of one and the same essence, majesty and glory with the Father, and the Son: and therefore, is the true and eternal God. . .” is the way the Creed asserts the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Thus the fulness of the divine being and attributes belong to the Holy Spirit. Just as the Father and the Son are God so the Holy Spirit, co-equal with them, is “true and eternal God.”
This, the Bible teaches throughout. Scripture assigns divine names to the Spirit. He is repeatedly called the Spirit of God (I Cor. 3:16), the Spirit of the Lord (II Cor. 3:17), and the Holy Spirit of promise (Eph. 1:13). The Apostle Peter identifies Him as very God (Acts 5:3). As God, many divine perfections are ascribed to the Holy Spirit. He is everywhere present (Psalm 139:7-10); He knows all things and searches even the deep things of God (Isaiah 40:13, 14; I Cor. 2:11); all power belongs unto Him to perform signs and wonders (Rom. 15:19); He is called eternal (Heb. 9:14) and holy (I Thess. 1:6); and creation (Gen. 1:2); the renewal of the face of the earth (Psalm 104:30); regeneration (John 3:5,6); and the resurrection from the dead (Rom. 8:11) are also ascribed to the Holy Spirit. Therefore the Church does not hesitate to confess that the Holy Spirit is God to be worshipped and glorified together with the Father and the Son.
THE HOLY SPIRIT AS THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST
Scripture makes a distinction which our Creed does not between the Holy Spirit as the third Person of the Holy Trinity and the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ. We read for example in John 7:39: “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.” Strikingly, the original Greek does not have the word “given” so that the text reads: “. . . the Holy Ghost was not yet. . . .” This cannot mean that the third Person of the Trinity was not yet, for, as we have seen, He is true and eternal God. The reference here is to the third Person of the Trinity as He is given to Christ. The Holy Spirit is given to Christ upon His exaltation to glory, and, as the Spirit of Christ, He is poured out into the church on the Day of Pentecost (Cf. Acts 2:33). To this Christ alluded often in His ministry especially as the day of His cross approached (Cf. John 14:16-18; John 15:26; John 16:7-15). On the mount moments before He ascended the Savior assured His disciples that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5, 8). Thus Paul writes the Galatians: “Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” (Gal. 4:6).
As the Spirit of Christ the Holy Spirit is the source of the diversity of gifts in the Church (I Cor. 12-14); the One Who seals the elect unto the day of redemption (Eph. 1:12-17 and Eph. 5:9) and the One in Whom Christ comes to apply to the hearts of believers all the blessings of salvation (II Thess. 2:13, Titus 3:5, et al.)
The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Holy Trinity, very God, and the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus with the Church of all ages the Reformed believer confesses: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, true and eternal God, the God of my salvation.”