No, I do not for the smallest fraction of a minute wish to maintain that the Holy Spirit once was not in our world, and that He came into it at a particular date in history. He is co-equal with the Father and Son; and He is also co-eternal with them. Do we not read inGenesis 1:2 that He was moving upon the face of the waters, when the Triune God was creating the heavens and the earth? Indeed He was there before time began.
Nor do I have in mind the fact that there is a moment in time when the eternal Spirit comes into the heart of an elect child of God, causing him to be born again, and thus beginning the work of sanctification in him. In that sense we can say that the Spirit was not yet in that child of God. Even as we can say that there was a moment when the Spirit overshadowed Mary, and the wonder of all wonders took place—and that was some four thousand years after time began—so we can say that there was a moment when the Spirit came into an individual elect child of God. But I do not have that in mind.
The fact of the matter is that I was asked to write concerning the work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament dispensation. And Holy Writ does teach us that, in a certain sense, we can say that in the Old Testament times the Spirit was not yet. If you will look up John 7:39 you will read, “But this spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive, for the Holy Spirit was not yet come; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.” Your Ring James version, which I quoted, has that word “come” in italics, indicating that the original Greek version does not say “was not yet come” but “was not yet.” And we are obliged to explain the text as though that word “come”—or, as in some other translations, “given,” does not belong to the text, and to what John wrote. “The Spirit was not yet, because Jesus was not yet glorified” is the idea.
This certainly raises many questions, since, as pointed out above, the Spirit was there in the beginning moving upon the waters. He was there overshadowing Mary before Jesus was conceived and born. We may add that He was there descending upon Jesus in the form of a dove at His baptism. Of Him we read, long before Jesus’ glorification, that He led Him into the wilderness to be tempted. We stand in need of an explanation of the fact that the Spirit was not yet throughout the whole Old Testament dispensation. How can that be?
There is abundant evidence that, from the creation of the heavens and the earth, the Spirit was in our world. We may point out first of all that all things exist by His power, and because He is in them. Yea, even the devil exists because the Spirit upholds him; and He gives existence to hell. Because He is in oxygen and hydrogen, these when combined in the right proportions become water. He is in our foods, and that is why they nourish us. He is in fire with its warming, but also in its destructive powers. Do we not read in Psalm 33:6, “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth”? And that word breath may be translated Spirit. Do we not in Acts 17:28 read, “For in him we live, and move, and have our being”? And what about Psalm 104:30?
What is more, it is so very evident from many passages of Holy Writ that in the Old Testament dispensation the Spirit qualified and strengthened both believers and unbelievers for the work to which the sovereign God had appointed them. In I Samuel 10:6we read, “And the Spirit of the Lord will come upon thee, and thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt be turned into another man.” That was spoken of Saul, the first king of Israel. Then in I Samuel 11:6 we read, “The Spirit of the Lord came upon Saul when he heard those tidings, and his anger was kindled greatly.” Before this he was a bashful, shy man who hid behind the stuff and dared not stand before the people over whom he was appointed to be king. In I Samuel 16:14 we read further, “The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him.” He now became a coward without the strengthening power of the Spirit that made him a new man. Now he commits suicide. Indeed during the Old Testament times the Spirit did qualify men for the work God decreed in His counsel that they should perform.
More to the point, as far as the subject assigned to me is concerned, is the work of the Spirit upon and in the saints. He was there since the fall of Adam in the work of sanctification in every elect child of God from that time onward. He caused every one of them to be born again. He united each one to Christ by the bond of faith, calling them internally and irresistibly. He sustained them in their spiritual warfare against the forces of wickedness, comforted them in their sorrows, wrought true repentance in them, and brought them to the mercy seat of God for assurance of the forgiveness of their sin. The Spirit was there alright, and He performed some wonderful works in and for the church.
Turn once to Psalm 51:11. David prays, “Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.” David could not pray that, if he did not have the Spirit. And if John 7:39 means that the Spirit was not yet in existence, or not yet operating in the church in the Old Testament dispensation, David could not have had Him in his heart. But God Himself had David pen down these words for us, so that we could see that the Spirit was there to sanctify, teach, comfort, and sustain the elect of God.
Or, if you will, turn to Isaiah 48:16, where we read, “The Lord God and His Spirit sent me.” And in Isaiah 61:1 we read, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord bath anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek; He hath sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those that are bound.” In no way can it be said then that in the Old Testament times the Spirit was not in the church yet. Were that the case there would have been no faith in that period, no love of God, no sorrow over sin, no hope for the things of God’s kingdom, no looking for Christ to come. And these definitely were there.
How then must we explain John 7:39? Even if we leave in that word “come” in our King James version, or substitute, as some other translations have it, the word “given,” how can it be said that the Spirit was not yet come or given, when the Old Testament Scriptures clearly reveal Him and His work?
Very simply, the Spirit was not there as the Spirit of the glorified Christ, that is, as the Spirit sent out by the resurrected, ascended, and glorified Christ. Note the word of Jesus in John 16:7. “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.” Before Jesus was born He could not preach to the people. Before He died He could not rise from the dead. So before He is glorified He cannot send the Spirit from the vantage point in heaven to which He ascended. He must first die, rise again on account of our justification, ascend up to heaven, and reach the glory which He came to earn and prepare for us. Then He is given the Spirit and can send Him down upon His church. Throughout the Old Testament times the Triune God sent the Spirit to perform all the works which we mentioned above. Now the Son of God, Who came in our flesh at a moment of time and ascended up into heaven on a particular day, having received the Spirit is the One Who now sends the Spirit into the elect children of God. Before He was glorified He could not do this. He, the Spirit, was not yet the Spirit of the glorified Christ.
Consider also the fact that now there is a far richer measure of truth for the Spirit to bring unto the church. Pentecost reveals that so clearly. And that tremendous change that took place in the disciples of Jesus reveals this. The truth that the Spirit wrote in the hearts of the saints in the Old Testament dispensation was rich. Make no mistake about that. All that man needed to know to have faith, not only in God, but in the coming Christ was in the Old Testament Scriptures, which the Spirit moved men to write, illuminated their minds—mind you, Moses knew all about creation week before man was even created, and all by the Spirit’s revelation—and infallibly guided them to write it exactly as it is in God’s mind. But now the richer measure of those truths is brought to the church and written in the hearts of the children of God.
Now the Spirit, as sent out by the glorified Christ and as the Spirit of Christ, can teach the saints concerning that glory as a realized, attained glory. In the Old Testament times He taught the saints of a coming glory. Now He shows it realized as that bestowed on Him Who died for our sins, and fulfilled to the last detail God’s law in our stead. Now He can show what the disciples did not understand, namely, that cross, as so very necessary for Him to reach that glory as our forerunner and Head. That is why Jesus said to His disciples in John 16:13, “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 show you things to come.” Indeed, He now leads the church into all truth, because all the glory promised to the church has been reached by Christ. Not only can He now lead the church into seeing that all the things promised in the Old Testament dispensation have been fulfilled, but now He can teach the church the necessity of that cross of Christ, His humiliation, His atoning for our sins. And Peter could respond on the day of Pentecost and say what he could not have said the day before. He could quote Old Testament prophecies which he knew before that day, because the Spirit was there in the Old Testament dispensation, but which he did not fully understand. A richer measure of the truth of these prophecies the church now had.
Throughout the Old Testament times the main message of the Spirit was, “Christ is coming.” Now it becomes, “Christ is come.” And although we sing, and may sing, from the Psalms, “Christ shall have dominion Over land and sea, Earth’s remotest regions shall His empire be,” we now, because the Spirit of the glorified Christ is sent by Christ into our hearts, can sing, “Christ now has dominion over land and sea, Earth’s remotest regions now His empire be.” The Old Testament saints could not do that, because Christ was not yet born, had not yet died for our sins, risen on account of our justification, and ascended to God’s right hand; but also because Christ had not yet received the Spirit to send down to the church with that message. The Old Testament saints were shown these truths by means of types and shadows. It was the day of shadows. Now the reality is in our midst; and the Spirit sent out by the glorified Christ shows us Christ in glory as our Head and forerunner. He shows us not a King on David’s earthly throne, but enthroned in heaven over all things. He shows us not an earthly Canaan and Jerusalem, but the new Jerusalem and a new creation wherein righteousness shall dwell.
In the Old Testament dispensation the Spirit was sent out by the Triune God to reveal unto the church all that the church could receive and needed for faith in God’s promises. All the truth could not be shown to the church yet, that is, all the details of how God would work it out could not be given, because of man’s limitations, not God’s. Even as a child cannot be taught all about himself and the earth on which he lives, in the early years of his training in school, so the church, which Paul in Galatians 3 and Galatians 4 likens to a child, was by the Spirit taught all that was needful, and all it could receive; but after Christ’s ascension new details, richer explanation of the truth was given. It was no new doctrine, but a richer measure of the same doctrine. It was, when Christ sent forth the Spirit, a richer explanation of the instruction given in the Old Testament times, but also truth that strengthens our faith in the conviction that Christ is still working for us, and that He will come to bring us to the glory that He now has.