The Deity of the Holy Spirit

George Smeaton

 

THE TESTIMONY TO THE SPIRIT IN THE GOSPELS
AND BOOK OF ACTS.

A long pause ensued from the last of the prophets to the time when the Spirit of God again spoke by revelation. After an interval of nearly four hundred years the long-expected time of fulfilment arrived, and we no sooner take up the evangelist’s narrative of the incarnation than we find, as was to be expected, the same important place occupied by the Holy Spirit. We shall endeavour here again to give an outline of the Scripture testimony in the same historical way.

It will be found, on examination, that the Holy Spirit is referred to more or less copiously by every New Testament writer. Not only so; there is not a single New Testament book drawn up as a public document for the Church which does not contain a marked, though often brief, allusion to the Holy Spirit, and very frequently, if not always, in connection with the main design or scope which the writer had in view. The only exceptions are found in the three small Epistles of a more private nature,—the Epistle to Philemon, and the Second and Third Epistles of John. In every book more specially prepared for public and ecclesiastical use, the allusion to the Spirit is most explicit. It will be my object, without attempting a commentary on all these passages, which would carry us over too vast a field, to put together the cumulative evidence which they supply. Except in some passages which cannot be passed over without fuller elucidation, a few words of comment will for the most part suffice.

All the evangelists refer to the Holy Spirit in connection with the birth, baptism, and temptation of our Lord. Of all the New Testament writers, next to Paul, Luke most frequently reverts to it. We should be disappointed, however, if we sought in him a full explanation of the nature and properties of the Spirit, when his principal object was to sketch the supernatural and miraculous works of the Spirit in the first founding of Christianity. There was no denial and no dispute at that time as to the divine personality of the Holy Spirit.

We find that the doctrine of the Spirit taught by the Baptist, by Christ, and by the apostles, was in every respect the same as that with which the Old Testament Church was familiar. We nowhere find that their Jewish hearers on any occasion took exception to it. The teaching of our Lord and His apostles on this topic never called forth a question or an opposition from any quarter,—a plain proof that on this subject nothing was taught by them which came into collision with the sentiments and opinions which up to that time had been accepted and still continued to be current among the Jews. The fundamental idea connected with the Messiah, that He SHOULD BE ANOINTED WITH THE SPIRIT, was still an undoubted doctrine; nor were the apostles ever compelled to meet doubts or to disarm opposition in the Jewish mind on this point.

The title CHRIST or MESSIAH was given to the Redeemer from the peculiar unction of the Spirit conferred on Him, which was unique in nature and in degree. The different servants of God who were filled with the Spirit, but in a far other way, illustrate this remark by contrast. To begin with, the promise which the angel Gabriel gave respecting the Baptist. He was to be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother’s womb, and go before the Lord Jesus in the Spirit and power of Elias (Luke i. 15-17). The words mean that ha should be FILLED and immediately directed by the Spirit in the discharge of his prophetic function, and that though he did not work miracles like Elijah, for obvious reasons, he was supplied with gifts of wisdom and courage, holiness, zeal, and power, for the purpose of proclaiming the law and gospel to a corrupt and self-righteous generation. Of Elizabeth, Zacharias, and Simeon, we read that they were FILLED with the Holy Ghost, and gave forth inspired announcements of the divine will (Luke i. 42, 67, ii. 25). But with Christ it was wholly different. The infinite fulness of the Spirit which was given to Him was constant and uninterrupted, and the result of the hypostatic union—that is, was the effect of humanity being assumed into personal union by the only-begotten Son. The Baptist, going before Him in the Spirit and power of Elijah, combined the two thoughts when he announced a Person pre-existent and divine, who was before him (John i. 15), and one not merely receiving the absolute fulness of the Spirit, but DISPENSING THE SPIRIT. The Messiah, according to the Baptist, was to baptize with the Spirit and with fire (Matt. iii. 11), which places Him in a different category from the Old Testament judges and prophets. That authority to give the Spirit was the culminating point of Christ’s exaltation. It has been alleged by Schmid1 that this prediction of the Baptist was a thought unknown to the Old Testament prophets, and that it wholly transcended their range of view. It might have been difficult for any one to find this truth in the language of the prophets, apart from the light reflected upon them by the New Testament statements. But we may affirm that it was there, to the satisfaction of those who could see it or should use aright the key when it should afterwards be given to them; for the Messiah was to receive gifts for men (Ps. lxviii. 10), and to be anointed with the oil of gladness above His fellows (Ps. xlv. 7); nay, that He should pour out the Spirit of grace and supplication (Zech. xii. 10). And that this could be none other than the Messiah is evident from the addition: “And they shall look upon me, whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn.” The baptism with the Spirit and with fire, which John contrasts with his own baptism, implies that the Spirit should be dispensed by the hand of the Messiah, and that He who had this power must be an accepted Mediator as well as a divine Person. But it also intimates an abundant communication of the Spirit’s extraordinary and sanctifying gifts.

THE SAYINGS OF OUR LORD ON THE SPIRIT.

We come next to THE SAYINGS OF JESUS on the doctrine of the Spirit, and it is worthy of notice that on several points, and especially on the inscrutable relations of the Trinity, we find, as was to be expected, disclosures from His lips more definite and ample than are expressed by any of His servants, whether prophets or apostles. In His last discourses, spoken in the midst of His disciples (John xiv. - xvi.), He set forth for their comfort and for the Church’s instruction the essential as well as economical relations in which the Holy Spirit stood to Him, and also the mission of the Spirit for the guidance of apostles and the application of redemption, in a manner more full and ample than we find in any other part of Scripture. He shows (1) that the Father should send the Holy Spirit IN HIS NAME (xiv. 26), a statement which implies that the Spirit, previously forfeited and withdrawn from mankind in consequence of sin, should, on the ground of His merits and intercession as the Mediator, be sent by the Father for all the purposes of His redemption. He shows (2) that the Spirit should be dispensed or given by His hand. This He repeatedly announced, and much more explicitly than was ever done by the Baptist.

We find that there are two principal divisions of our Lord’s sayings on the subject of the Spirit,—those which describe the Spirit’s work in conversion, and those which describe the Spirit’s work on the mind of apostles and of the Church in general.

Those sayings which describe the Spirit’s work in conversion, will be most fitly adduced afterwards (Lect IV.).

Christ also promised the Holy Spirit to His believing disciples as rivers of living water: “If any wan thirst, let him come to 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 Jesus was not yet glorified” (John vii. 37-39). We have to notice first Christ’s saying, and then the apostolic commentary appended to it. While water is in certain passages the element of cleansing, it is introduced here and elsewhere (Isa. lv. 1) as the element of quenching thirst. They who are said in a religious sense to thirst have a painful feeling of want, and desire relief in the only way in which they can attain it. Two things are included in the invitation. They are desired TO COME, which simply means to believe, as is evident from the alternated expression employed in another passage (John vi. 35), implying a misery from which they escape, and a fountain, that is, the Saviour, to which they are invited to repair; and they are desired to DRINK, for in no case can the sense of thirst be removed by merely looking at the fountain. The terms thus conjoined, COME and DRINK, mean faith, but are no mere tautology. They are the incipient, and the enlarged or continued exercise of the same grace of faith.

And it is promised that from the heart of this believing disciple there should well up or flow out rivers of living water, which intimate precisely the same thing as Christ said to the woman of Samaria (John iv. 14). The meaning is not that the Spirit flows from one disciple to another,—for none can so give the Spirit,—but that the Spirit as a flowing river quenches the thirst and satisfies the desires, so that the soul no longer thirsts for any other object. The promise is not to apostles alone, for that ulterior promise following faith in Christ is made definite: He that believeth on me. But this by no means presupposes that the believing disciple has, by his own self-determining power, produced this faith without the teaching of the Father (John vi. 45), the drawing of the Son (xii. 32), of the life-giving power of the Spirit (vi. 63).

The terms of the apostolic commentary subjoined are very significant. They show that Christ meant the Spirit, and that all the inward satisfaction, rest, peace, joy, and assurance flowing into the soul and quenching its thirst, are the result of the Spirit’s operation. When John says that Christ spoke of the Spirit which believers should receive, he explains why Jesus used the future tense and not the past: rivers of living water shall flow. But the apostle adds that “the Spirit was not yet,” because Christ’s glorification had not yet arrived. He does not mean that the Spirit did not yet exist,—for all Scripture attests His eternal pre-existence,—nor that His regenerating efficacy was still unknown,—for countless millions had been regenerated by His power since the first promise in Eden,—but that these operations of the Spirit had been but an anticipation of the atoning death of Christ rather than a GIVING. The apostle speaks comparatively, not absolutely, as is always done when the old and new economy are contrasted.

Christ’s testimony to the Spirit contained special reference to the Comforter (John xiv. 16 - xvi. 7). As further allusion will be made to these promises, it may here suffice to enumerate the passages and give their scope. For wise reasons, the Lord reserved His special teaching on the Holy Spirit to His last evening on the earth, that the donation of the Spirit might be connected in the mind of the disciples with His vicarious sacrifice, and that He might be expected as Christ’s Deputy. We are reminded of this antecedent and consequent when He speaks of sending the Spirit (John xv. 26), of giving the Spirit (vii. 39), of pouring out the Spirit (Joel ii. 28), of kindling a fire on the earth (Luke xii. 49). The culminating point of Christ’s exultation was to have the authority or power of baptizing with the Holy Ghost, as foretold by John the Baptist and announced by the Lord Himself (Acts i. 5). The authority to give the Spirit was assigned to the Son as the reward of His finished work. That no one might suppose that the Spirit’s dependence on the Father is removed, Christ says: “Whom I will send to you from the Father” (John xv. 26). And to show that this was done at Christ’s intercession and request, He says: “I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter” (John xiv. 16); that is, to compensate them for their great loss in losing the visible presence of their Lord.

To be convinced of the importance which Christ attached to the mission of the Spirit, we have only to recall the terms in which He four times refers to the Paraclete or Comforter. Whether we render the word TEACHER with some, or HELPER with others, or ADVOCATE and PATRON with others, or abide by the translation COMFORTER, with which we are most familiar, the tenor of the promise implies that He was to be sent at Christ’s intercession, and to act as His Deputy.

A brief summary of the different operations of the Comforter may be set forth as follows. He was, after Christ’s departure from the world, to take the Saviour’s place, and in all cases of official duty or emergency to impart the necessary aid. He was to remind the apostles what Christ had taught them; He was to give them clearer and more extensive communications in reference to the doctrine of Jesus; He was to unfold to them what they did not comprehend when the Lord was with them. They were to be under the perpetual direction and superintendence of the Spirit, and supported by Him in the proclamation of the gospel wherever they should be sent,—promises which imparted to them the greatest calmness, and gave rise to the most joyful state of mind. Such a close union is represented as existing between the Son and the Spirit, that it almost seems from the passages which describe the indwelling of the Spirit as if they were identical. But that is only in appearance. For Scripture represents Christ as sending the Spirit to glorify Him,—to supply His place,—to lead the disciples into all truth, and to imbue the minds of the apostles with an immediate revelation of the divine will.

The Lord Jesus, in the evening of the first resurrection day, first began to GIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT to the apostles assembled in one place. And to make the occasion significant, He breathed on them, and said: “Receive ye the Holy Ghost” It has often been affirmed by expositors that this was but a pledge or promise accompanied with a symbolic action, and awaiting its accomplishment on the day of Pentecost. The words, however, must be accepted as they stand, and in their full significance. They intimate an actual donation of the Holy Ghost, not an allusion to the gift conferred fifty days afterwards. The atonement was already a completed fact, and accepted by the Father; the everlasting righteousness was actually brought in; every barrier to the communication of the Spirit was now removed; and the Lord did not deal in empty symbols or mere terms. He bestowed what the words imply when He said: “Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (John xx. 22).

This interpretation enables us to dispose of two misleading opinions which have obtained greater currency than could have been supposed. (1) It is held by not a few, such as Stier, Wardlaw, and others, that the apostles acted with undue precipitance in filling up the vacant apostleship, because the promised effusion of the Spirit was not received. The doubts raised by Stier against the steps taken to supply the place from which Judas by transgression fell, carry more serious consequences than the propounders of that interpretation imagine. It is of no avail to say, If the Spirit came in the room of Christ, it would have been more natural for Him to nominate the new apostle. The answer is, The Spirit was actually doing so through the Church. When it is said, Is it not possible that the apostles, with all their intellectual knowledge and childlike confidence, might err? the answer is, That the Lord, in breathing upon them and imparting the Spirit, intimated that what they remitted or retained would be ratified in heaven; and as for the comparison between Matthias and Paul, whom Stier refers to as alone filling the vacant place, it is sufficient to say that Paul calls himself “one born out of due time.” The whole college of apostles, to whom the Lord said: “Receive ye the Holy Ghost,” cannot be supposed to have erred in their interpretation of the psalm (Ps. cix. 8), or in the further step of publicly filling up the vacant office.

(2) Another error is the modern notion propounded by the Plymouth Brethren, that believers are not to pray for the Holy Spirit, because He was once for all given on the day of Pentecost, and that the Christian body may not pray for what is already possessed. That rash and presumptuous position, by whomsoever it is held, is discredited by the fact that the apostles who had received the Holy Ghost on the first resurrection day continued with one accord in prayer and supplication for the promise of the Father (Acts i. 14). They prayed for the Spirit though they had received the Spirit. They waited for more of the Spirit that they had, in compliance with their Lord’s command. This is the true attitude of the Christian Church in every age. And the history of the apostles shows that not once, but on many occasions, they were made partakers of the baptism of the Spirit and fire.

THE EFFUSION OF THE SPIRIT ON PENTECOST.

The importance of the Book of Acts as the historic narrative of the public effusion of the Spirit cannot be over-estimated. It shows how the first disciples received the ascension gifts, and went forth equipped with them to found the Christian Church. We learn that the little company, obedient to the Lord’s command, tarried in Jerusalem, not forming plans how they should appear in public, but wrestling in prayer till they were endued with power from on high. At length all that was comprehended in Christ’s farewell discourses found its wonderful accomplishment when the day of Pentecost was fully come.

The significance of the Pentecost may be noticed in connection with the Passover, the one referring to the Redemption, the other to the New Covenant, as in the history of Israel. Pentecost, the fiftieth day from the Passover, and from the exodus out of Egypt, was the feast of First-fruits, and also, according to Jewish belief, the day when the Law was proclaimed from Sinai. Both facts have their proper import Regarded as the feast of First-fruits, the Pentecost furnished the first-fruits of the world’s conversion at the outpouring of the Spirit. Regarded as the commemoration day of the Sinai Covenant, which made the Jews a kingdom of priests, it. was a fitting occasion for the removal of the old economy and the erection of the new, and to be the espousals-day of the Christian Church.

A new revelation from God to man must needs be inaugurated with supernatural signs and miracles. As the Sinaitic Covenant was set up in a miraculous way, it is obvious that when the time arrived for its abrogation the new economy that superseded it must be ushered in by similar miracles. As God came down on the mount in a supernatural way, so did He bear witness to the apostles by signs and wonders and divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost (Heb. ii. 4); or, as some will have it, the glory of the Lord, the Shechinah or fiery pillar, again appeared.

The greatest event in all history, next to the incarnation and atonement, was the mission of the Comforter; for it will continue, while the world lasts, to diffuse among men the stream of the divine life. The Pentecost was the great day of the Holy Ghost, the opening of the river of the water of life. As Goodwin2 says: “He must have a coming in state, in a solemn and visible manner, accompanied with visible effects as well as Christ had, and whereof all the Jews should be, and were witnesses.” Not only so; there must be a Church which at its commencement should give the clearest indications of its heavenly origin. That was the great birthday of the Christian Church.

The Christian economy was inaugurated amid supernatural manifestations which could not be questioned. When the reality came, the shadow passed away. The Jewish economy gave place before that which was to comprehend all nations. Now the New Covenant founded on better promises began (Jer. xxxi. 31; Ezek. xxxvi. 25). The noise as of a rushing mighty wind intimating that the Spirit is the divine breath of life, and reminding them of the strong wind in Ezekiel’s vision that made the dry bones live; the flame of fire probably reminding them of the Shechinah; and the cloven tongues like as of fire, significant of an inexplicable and miraculous power of speaking in every language, and of filling men’s hearts with the glow of divine love, constituted the solemn and public consecration of Christ’s ambassadors for the founding of a Church which should fill the whole earth, and into which all nations should flow. The fire from heaven testifying the acceptance of Aaron’s and Elijah’s sacrifice was even in the Old Testament an emblem of the Holy Spirit. God was well pleased with all that had been done. Thus the Pentecost was openly signalized as the day of the mission of the Comforter.

The apostles had some experience of the nature of their calling from the mission on which Christ had sent them while yet with them; but now they came forth with a public testimony, not only to Christ’s Messiahship, but to the great salvation purchased by His death. The Holy Spirit, as the promised Paraclete, took the place of Christ’s corporeal presence. They were led by the Spirit into all truth, and the tongues were a conclusive proof that the persons to whom such gifts were imparted spoke by divine inspiration, and that it was not so much they as the Spirit that spoke the words.

The great effusion on the day of Pentecost did not mean a religious mood of mind or a pious enthusiasm, but that THEY WERE FILLED with the personal Holy Ghost. Though some have a difficulty in accepting the literal meaning of these terms, because they seem to imply a local limitation which, of course, cannot be applied to the omnipresent Spirit, it may be proper to remark that they have no more difficulty than that the Spirit made, preserves, and governs the soul of man. The meaning is, that they received a rich measure of the Spirit to fill the human faculties, and such communications, gifts, and operations as were needed to prepare them for their work. They were filled according to their capacity and mental conformation, but in such a way that there was not only ample variety, but room for increase and enlargement of the earthen vessel. Nor does the expression refer only to extraordinary communications. The ordinary sanctifying gifts are not to be excluded. One thing they all had to perform—to confess the truth; and courage was supplied by the Spirit. The transforming power of the Spirit so filled them that the timid became bold, the selfish self-denied, the arrogant humble; the ambitious aspirants after distinction ceased to seek great things for themselves. They felt that all gifts were from the Lord and for the Church’s welfare; and jealousy and envy vanished.

The effusion of the Spirit made a great change on all the powers of the apostles, whether we look at their heart or at their understanding. They received a knowledge such as they never had before of the great work which Jesus had finished for man’s salvation, and betrayed no longer the perverse idea that the Messiah’s kingdom was to be of a worldly nature. They perceived in His whole earthly obedience the grand ransom necessary to procure a spiritual redemption. And they were in full accord with the Lord’s instructions on all the principal topics of religion.

But special reference must be made to those extraordinary gifts conferred by the sovereign gift of Christ on the day of Pentecost, which continued all through the apostolic age, and which were not only very various, but wholly distinct from the ordinary sanctifying or ministerial gifts which continue in the Church through all her history. The supernatural or extraordinary gifts were temporary, and intended to disappear when the Church should be founded and the inspired canon of Scripture closed; for they were an external proof of an internal inspiration.

In describing them we shall follow the enumeration given by Paul (1 Cor. xii. 8-11). Of all the miraculous gifts the chief and highest was THE GIFT OF PROPHECY, which was intended—whether we look at the Old Testament or the New—to be more of an official than personal nature, for revealing the divine counsels for the edification and comfort of the Church. The gift of prophecy and the field it covered—whether we look at it simply as prediction, or as the revelation of the divine will in general—forms so vast a theme, that we can do no more than refer to it. What manifold and various communications were made by the prophets previous to the completion of the canon, how they revealed the present and future counsels of God, and how they spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, are points known only to the Lord, who gave them their commission and message.

Another supernatural gift was THE GIFT OF TONGUES, the power of speaking in foreign languages which had never been acquired;—a great work of the Holy Ghost, which gave a sort of visibility to the inward inspiration by which their mind was guided and controlled. Peter unaided could only speak his Galilean dialect, which easily betrayed him, as we see in Pilate’s judgment hail; but now he could, in company with his colleagues, command without difficulty the attention of educated hearers, who heard them speak in their own tongue the wonderful works of God. Many, interpreting the narrative of Acts in the light of the peculiar allusions to the gift of tongues referred to in the Epistles to the Corinthians, put another construction on the phrase. They interpret the expression in the latter case as a speaking in ecstasy. That is the modern German speculation, devised to escape the full admission of the extraordinary miracle. But it is a misinterpretation, and a violence to the terms used in all the passages. The gift was wholly miraculous. The apostles at the moment of inspiration received the extraordinary endowment which qualified them to utter new words, wholly unknown before, and to express by means of them sentiments and doctrines which arrested, convinced, and enlightened the mind of those whom the Holy Ghost was leading to the Saviour. Whatever difficulties we in this age may have in understanding the mode by which the operation was accomplished there can be no doubt that amid a conflux of people from remote lands, no more appropriate or powerful means could be employed to extend the gospel than that use of foreign languages,—intimating as it did that the gospel, unlike the limitations of Judaism, was not for one people, but for all people. It filled the hearers with amazement and admiration. To speak a new language by the sudden influence of the Spirit exceeded all the powers of nature, and afforded a sure testimony to the presence and omnipotence of the Holy Ghost. But in the Church it had comparatively little value; for tongues were for a sign not to them that believed, but to them that believed not (1 Cor. xiv. 22). The apostle, therefore, when he heard that this gift was coveted for the mere purpose of ostentatious display, took occasion to reprove the Corinthians for that perversion (1 Cor. xii. 20-32).

An allied gift was the INTERPRETATION OF TONGUES, differing from the former only in this, that these interpreters, not having the gift of tongues, were enabled by the same Spirit to understand and explain the languages which were used. They thus possessed in interpretation what they wanted in utterance. In certain cases these related gifts were conjoined (1 Cor. xiv. 5).

The WORD OF WISDOM, the first named among the gifts, must not be reckoned an ordinary gift (1 Cor. xii. 8). Without accepting the ingenious definitions which have been propounded, it may be affirmed that as wisdom, in the ordinary acceptation of the term, is that mental endowment by which one regulates his life and plans most surely to gain the ultimate end; so wisdom, as an extraordinary gift, differed from the former only in this, that it was bestowed on the gifted persons by the immediate effusion of the Holy Spirit. But as the apostle calls it not only wisdom, but THE WORD OP WISDOM, we must understand a singular faculty of pointing out the way of wisdom, both by their counsels and their life, to those who were of weaker judgment and capacity. And the same thing holds true of those who are in the same verse represented as endowed with the WORD OF KNOWLEDGE by the same Spirit. As the apostles, from the nature of their office, could not long reside within the bounds of any single city or congregation, and as they deemed it enough to lay the foundations of Christian doctrine as to repentance, faith, and the like (Heb. vi. 1), an extraordinary gift of illumination was given to certain members of the Church, in order that the newborn babes, as they are termed by Peter, might grow and increase in knowledge.

Next to these the apostle enumerates the GIFT OF FAITH. We need scarcely remark that by that expression we are not to understand saving faith, the like precious faith common to all believers, but the extraordinary faith, or faith of miracles, relating to those displays of divine power which tended to the glory of God. It may be considered also as a display of confidence or world-overcoming faith in the presence of dangers peculiar to themselves or to others. There seems also to have been a certain counteracting or repelling power which, in imminent perils from demons, noxious animals, or the elements of nature, deprived them of the power to injure (Mark xvi. 18; Acts xxviii. 5). Faith was often needed to confront dangers with a confident mind.

Allusion is next made to GIFTS OF HEALING and working of MIRACLES by the same Spirit (ver. 9). The apostle distributes his classification of the extraordinary gifts in this way, because they were not all in the hand of any one man, but divided according to the Spirit’s sovereign pleasure. Though the apostles seem to have possessed all the supernatural gifts, it does not follow that this held true of other disciples. As to the working of miracles by a power far transcending man’s energy or skill, we need not make a special enumeration of the many operations of that nature. They are said to be by the same Spirit,—one and the same Spirit distributing these miraculous operations to each man severally as he pleased. They were sometimes called wonders (terata), from the effect of those astonishing interventions, and signs (shmeia), because they indicated an efficient cause which was alone adequate to work such prodigies and to lead men to God their Creator.

Another supernatural gift was the power of DISCERNING SPIRITS, which, for wise reasons, was conferred on many in the primitive Church to unmask Satan’s devices (ver. 10). The adversary, incessantly active in sowing tares, never failed to send the blighting influence of false teachers, who ceased not to deceive others, and might themselves be deceived. Great evils, as the Scriptures everywhere testify, resulted from this to the Church. To obviate these perils, the Spirit imparted to certain members of the Church the gift of discerning spirits; in consequence of which these gifted disciples, in a way far transcending human wisdom, were enabled to warn the Church.

Such were the supernatural gifts of the Holy Ghost with which the disciples were amply supplied and adorned. And as is clearly indicated by Paul’s exhortations to Timothy, they might be either stirred up and increased, or neglected (1 Tim. iv. 14; 2 Tim. i. 6). They were not possessed by all, but distributed among those who possessed them by a sovereign disposal, and probably according to the mental conformation which each one had received by nature. Nor were they invariably confined to true disciples; for we find undoubted allusions to the fact that these extraordinary gifts were sometimes wielded by temporary disciples, such as Judas, to whom at last the Lord shall say: “I never knew you” (Matt. vii. 23). The power of the Spirit is seen in that agency that acted on the day of Pentecost. We trace the action of the Holy Spirit in uniting a company of disciples in prayer and supplication, and in animating them to continue waiting for the promise of the Father. And the action of the disciples in all times and countries is analogous.

Not only so; the instruments by whom the Spirit works are prepared for service in an analogous way, that is, with the sole exception of the supernatural and extraordinary accompaniments. They are Christians first, then called to labour. This is brought under our notice in the most impressive manner, when we consider how the first disciples were prepared for service. Their gifts were there so far as these were natural endowments; but they knew them not themselves; and they were required to wait for the Spirit in the attitude of humble suppliants till they were endued with power from on high; a preparation so necessary, that had they precipitately proceeded to work without that power, they would have accomplished nothing. To evince the greatness of the change to be wrought upon them, we have only to recall the ignorance and darkness which covered their minds, notwithstanding the instructions which they had received.

The Book of Acts narrates the operations of the Spirit. When persecution at length broke out, the disciples, pouring out their united prayers, were all filled with the Holy Ghost (iv. 31). The terrible discipline displayed on Ananias and Sapphira for an act of attempted deception, which proceeded on the supposition that they could overreach the omniscient Spirit that dwelt in the apostles and spoke in them, filled the whole community with awe, and vindicated the honour due to the Holy Ghost. And we see the Church after a time of persecution walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost (ix. 31).

Without tracing the history of the Spirit’s operations, let me succinctly state the general scope of the Book of Acts. It sketches the movements of the kingdom of God; it exhibits men full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom (vi. 3, xi. 24); it narrates the appointment of the labourers, and the disposal of their services. It shows, as Luther happily remarks, that the Holy Spirit was given, not by the law, but by the hearing of the gospel. We trace how men were summoned to serve God, and were owned as well as guided and controlled in the prosecution of their work. The sovereign Spirit, as a personal agent, directed the Church at Antioch to send forth Barnabas and Saul, saying: “Separate to me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereto I have called them.” We see the Spirit prompting Philip to join himself to the eunuch’s chariot, and directing Cornelius to send for Peter, as well as directing Peter to go and receive the first Gentile into the Church. We see the Spirit prompting at one time and hindering at another (Acts xvi. 6).


Notes

  1. See C. F. Schmid’s Biblische Theologie des N. T. p. 164, Stuttgart 1859.
  2. Goodwin’s Works, vol. vi. p. 8.

 



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