The expression: “The promise of the Holy Spirit,” occurs in Acts 2:33, and we quote: “Therefore, being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.” It is not our purpose, in this brief article, to call attention to this entire passage. We are merely interested now in the expression: the promise of the Holy Spirit.

The expression is unique. Two interpretations are grammatically possible. Some would interpret it as signifying: the promised Holy Spirit. The expres­sion, then, would simply mean that the Holy Spirit is the content of the promise. The Spirit is He who was promised; hence, the apostle would emphasize that Christ received of the Father the promised Holy Spirit. Others would interpret this expression in the sense that the Holy Spirit is Himself the promise. The es­sence and, therefore, the fulfillment of God’s promise is the Holy Spirit. This explanation would not merely declare that the Holy Spirit was promised, but also that He Himself is the promise, its essence and fulfillment.

The first of these interpretations is commonly adopt­ed. The Spirit is the promised Spirit. He has been promised throughout the Old Testament, particularly in such prophecies as that of Joel which is quoted in this second chapter of Acts. And now Jesus receives that promised Spirit of God.

However, we prefer the second interpretation. It is simply a fact that, had the apostle meant to refer to the promised Holy Spirit, he could have stated it in simpler language by writing, not “the promise of the Holy Spirit,” but “The Holy Spirit of promise.” Thus stated, the expression could mean only one thing: the Spirit characterized by the promise, the Spirit who was promised. But now we read: the promise of the Holy Spirit. We conclude, therefore, that he does not mean what could have been expressed in simpler speech which would allow no other interpretation, but that, speaking of the promise of the Holy Spirit, he means to say that Jesus received the promise, name­ly the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is Himself cen­trally the promise of God and, therefore, centrally its fulfillment. For God to fulfill His promise or to give the Holy Spirit is the same thing.

We understand, of course, that when we speak of the Spirit as the fulfillment of the promise of God we express ourselves thus because we realize that Christ, too, is called in holy writ the promise of the Lord. In Him God’s word of salvation is realized for all the elect given Him of the Father. The Spirit, however, is called the promise of the Lord because He alone is its realization and fulfillment in the hearts of God’s people.

This implies, in the first place, that the promise of the Lord is His Word relative to salvation. To speak of the promise of the Holy Spirit implies that the promise is identified with the work of the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit works salvation. It is true that Acts 2:33 refers to the Spirit of Pentecost. We know, however, that the outpouring of the Spirit upon Pente­cost does not mean that He now began to work in His Church for the first time, but that the operation of the Holy Spirit within the Church would now occur in connection with the historically risen and glorified Christ. Even so, the Holy Spirit, be it in connection with the Christ, works salvation in us, calls us out of darkness and death into light and life, and continues to operate in us until we shall appear as the perfected Church in everlasting and heavenly glory. Hence, the promise of the Holy Spirit is the promise of the Lord relative to out salvation.

This implies, secondly, that the promise of the Lord is not an offer of salvation. To say that the promise of the Lord is an offer means that the will and desire of God is to save us depends upon the free will of man. An offer presupposes that God would bestow salvation upon us and that it is man who accepts this Divine of­fer and, therefore, determines whether or not he shall be saved. Hence, if the promise of the Holy Spirit be an offer, the implication must be that the work of sal­vation by the Holy Spirit depends upon the free will of man. This is contrary to all of holy writ which teaches us that the Holy Ghost is as the wind which bloweth whithersoever it listeth. Besides, to identify the Holy Spirit with the promise of God surely em­phasizes that the promise of the Lord is not merely an offer addressed or proposed to man, but an irresistible work of the living God which He works through His Spirit in our hearts.

This implies, in the third place, that the promise of the Lord is wholly unconditional. A conditional promise is a promise which depends for its fulfillment upon man, particularly the act of faith. To teach a conditional promise means that there is something out­side of the promise which determines its fulfillment. We fail to understand how anyone can deny this. This simply means that the Lord declares His love to the sinner and His desire to have him, but that that sinner will actually receive salvation if and when he believes on the Lord Jesus Christ. This, we know, is indeed the Liberated conception of the general promise for all those who are baptized. If, however, the Holy Spirit Himself is the promise, then the promise cannot be anything else than unconditional. Nothing, then, can be presented as a condition for the promise, because the Holy Ghost is the sole worker of all our salvation. Unless we would defend the theory that the Holy Spirit will operate within us if we will believe. This, however, is inconceivable for anyone who clings to the Reformed conception of the Holy Scriptures,

Finally, another thought which emphasizes the Scriptural and Confessional conception of the promise is expressed in Acts 2:39. Nothing reveals this un­conditional realization of God’s promise more than the beautiful truth that the Holy Spirit realizes God’s promise of salvation in the hearts of God’s people gen­erally in their infancy. I do not know of a truth more clearly taught in our Confessions than this truth con­cerning the place of the elect child in God’s covenant. It is surely Reformed to teach that adults and children share equally in God’s salvation, not only from the viewpoint of election and the atonement of Jesus upon the cross, but also from the viewpoint of the operation of the Spirit within our hearts. The truth that the Spirit of promise generally begins His work of sal­vation in His people during their very early infancy surely emphasizes that the Lord realizes His promise unconditionally in whom He wills, and this means that His promise is intended for and realized only in the elect. This promise of the Lord is sovereignly unconditional because of divine election. It is cer­tainly unconditionally realized by Christ upon the cross of Calvary. It is unconditionally bestowed upon His people because they are generally saved in their infancy. For, no flesh may boast, now and forever.

—H. Veldman