THE TESTIMONY TO THE SPIRIT IN THE APOSTOLICAL EPISTLES II
The Epistle to the ROMANS gives an outline of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in an experimental, not in a controversial way. This Epistle was meant not so much to smooth differences or unite parties, as to confirm the Church in true doctrine. On the subject which engages our attention, the Epistle to the Romans contains very marked allusions which distinguish the Holy Spirit’s work from the operation of Providence on the one hand, and from the objective presentation of truth on the other. The Epistle shows another influence distinct from the word though connected with it, in producing faith, and in leading Christians in whom faith already exists. To this I refer the more readily, because the celebrated Griesbach in two University-programmes laboured to prove that the term SPIRIT in the eighth chapter means nothing more than Christian character and disposition; and because many others, paralysed by these objections, have been in the habit of affirming that there are few passages where the sense of the word “Spirit” is more difficult. We shall find that it does not occur in more senses than one, and that it neither means influence nor Christian disposition, but the Holy Spirit.
This appears beyond dispute when it is said that the Gentiles were made obedient by word and deed, through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God (Rom. xv. 19). That the miracles wrought by Paul are there attributed to the Spirit, is beyond dispute. The agent and the power which the agent puts forth are both mentioned in alluding to these miracles. The conversion of the Gentiles, in like manner, or the offering up of the converted Gentiles as an acceptable sacrifice, is ascribed to the Holy Ghost (xv. 16).
On the economy of the Spirit, in connection with Christ’s Sonship, there is a noteworthy passage, though on almost all sides it is incorrectly referred to the divine nature of our Lord: “Concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. i. 3, 4). Plainly the apostle does not allude to the two natures of our Lord, as commentators generally expound it, but to THE TWO STATES OF humiliation and exaltation. And the expression: “Spirit of holiness,” does not refer to the divine nature, but to the dispensation of the Spirit after His resurrection, which supplied the most conclusive evidence of our Lord’s divine Sonship. The effusion of the Spirit on the apostles and on the Church terminated the controversy whether He was the Son of God. The communication of the Holy Spirit—a gift competent to no created being— proved Him to be the Messiah and the Son of God, according to His own claim (John v. 19).
“The love of God is shed abroad upon our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us” (Rom. v. 5). These words intimate that the Holy Ghost as a divine agent does a certain work; that He is given according to a divine economy and that through His aid the redeeming love in God’s heart is shed abroad in our hearts; that is, is tasted and enjoyed, not only in the first stages of the Christian’s experience, but ever afterwards. Plainly this is distinct from miraculous gifts and from the proclamation of the gospel. It intimates that the Holy Ghost sheds abroad God’s boundless, free, unchanging love in our hearts, and that He is given to believers as a perpetually indwelling guest,—reminding the Christian of reconciliation, supplying the constant experience of the divine love, and assuring him of its perpetuity as a gift never to be forfeited.
It is in the eighth chapter, however, that we find the doctrine of the Holy Spirit most fully developed, from different points of view. The apostle’s object is to prove the certainty of the believers’ salvation from the fact that they are led by the Spirit of God. He demonstrates that they enjoy the effectual operation of the Spirit as a blessing which has its ground in the surety-obedience of Christ its procuring cause (2-4). The argument is, that they who are occupied by the Spirit and who walk after the Spirit are exempt from condemnation. In other words, he argues that they who are free from the service of sin through the Spirit of life are by that fact proved also to be free from condemnation. The apostle had set in a clear light the inseparable connection between justification and sanctification on the ground of Christ’s merit or purchase (vi. 1-13). He here shows that the spiritual life is secured by the effectual operation of the Holy Spirit. The entire section exhibits the Christian in the highest stages of the divine life, and supplies a rule by which the Christian teacher is to regulate his thinking and phraseology.
The apostle begins his discussion on the Spirit with these memorable words: “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. viii. 2). The two laws—that of sin and death, already referred to in the seventh chapter (vii. 23), and a counterpart law of life in Christ—are again put in direct antithesis—that is, into the contrast of flesh and spirit, which we find pervading the whole Pauline theology. But why, it may be asked, is the Spirit called the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus? The entire expression is equivalent to this the Spirit of life residing in Christ and dispensed by Christ is a law of irresistible power counteracting the law of sin and death. It is the law written on the heart, by which the regenerate man is step by step enabled to resist the power of sin and to follow holiness. It is the law of the life-giving Spirit in the fellowship of Christ Jesus.
The apostle next adverts to several operations of the Spirit which deserve the most attentive consideration singly and collectively.
1. The first thing to be noticed is the sequence of operations as described in the Christian’s experience. There are three distinct expressions, which are introduced in this order: (1) They walk after the Spirit (viii. 4); (2) they are spiritually-minded (viii. 6); (3) they are in the Spirit (viii. 9). In the order of sequence the last-named, however, comes first, as follows:—They are in the Spirit by the act of regenerating grace; they are spiritually-minded—that is, they mind the things of the Spirit when they are inwardly disposed, moved, and animated according to the mind of the Spirit; they walk after the Spirit, which refers more to their inward and outward practical life. The sequence is such as proves that it is not sufficient to perform good works which challenge the attention of spectators, unless there be the inner change of character and disposition, which naturally weans the heart from the objects to which natural bias disposes it.
2. The second thing mentioned in the passage is, that the Spirit DWELLS in the Christian (viii. 9). A running contrast between the flesh and Spirit is carried out through the entire section. And the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ is adduced as a conclusive proof that we are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit; for Christ, the second Adam, received the Spirit as a reward for the performance of His work of suretyship, that He might impart the Spirit to all believers. When the apostle subjoins: “if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (ver. 9), it shows that the participation of the Holy Spirit is not universal; and that only they who were from eternity given to Christ and redeemed by Him, enjoy the inhabitation of the Spirit in the Biblical acceptation of the term. In them He dwells, as in His habitation or abode, for ever. It is this inhabitation which imparts the spiritual mind, the mark by which the true disciple is distinguished; for Christ and His people are anointed with the same Spirit.
3. The Spirit is LIFE because of righteousness (v. 10). Though the body is dead because of sin, this death is not regarded as a punishment or anything properly penal, but only as a consequence, still permitted to run its course, after Christ has fully satisfied divine justice. But the Spirit is life on the ground of Christ’s imputed righteousness. As He gave life to all creatures at first, so does He give life immortal, incorruptible, and unfading to the new creature—that is, to all the redeemed of the Lord.
4. They who have the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body (ver. 13). They are debtors, not to the flesh, but to the Spirit. The flesh, or the deeds of the body, they mortify, because they are the cause of death. They cannot so kill it, indeed, that it shall stir no more; but they, by the Spirit, weaken it and lop off its branches one by one.
5. They are led by the Spirit of God, and are thus evinced to be the children of God (ver. 14). The expression: “led by the Spirit,” refers to an inward prompting, impulse, and inclination, which so rules and guides them that they cannot omit duty or neglect privilege. It implies the helplessness of a child which cannot stand alone, but needs a strong supporting hand; for it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps (Jer. x. 23). The saints of God, to whom the expression applies, are not only ignorant of the way, but when they know it, their liability to stumble too readily betrays itself; and their natural reluctance must constantly be overcome. This LEADING is attributed to the Spirit of God, the master of the inclinations, of the will, and of the affections by which men are moved and animated, so that in due time they desire to do nothing but what they are prompted to undertake by the illumination from on high.
They are on this ground evinced to be the CHILDREN OF GOD; and this leads the apostle to describe the Holy Spirit as the author of adoption, and as prompting the believer to realize the privileges connected with this filial relationship. Philippi seems to me mistaken1 in denying that the phrase SPIRIT OF ADOPTION can mean the Spirit who effects the Sonship or transplants us into the relationship of sons. The analogy of all the phrases of this description—such as the Spirit of love, the Spirit of wisdom, the Spirit of power, the Spirit of revelation, and the like—implies that He is the author or producing cause of the term following in the genitive. This is no exception to the uniform usage. The same Spirit produces the bondage to fear, and effects the adoption. On this great central blessing which is put in our possession by the Spirit, I shall not now enlarge, as it afterwards engages our attention in the dogmatic part of this treatise.
The other effects of the Spirit mentioned in this chapter are these: “Christians have the first-fruits of the Spirit,” and the Spirit helps them in prayer.
6. With regard to the FIRST-FRUITS, the apostle says: “We ourselves also who have the first-fruits of the Spirit” (ver. 23). Speaking of the groaning universe waiting for deliverance, he adds, that Christians also who have the first-fruits of the Spirit groan. Some, with Grotius, incorrectly limit these terms to the apostles. James, indeed, speaks of the early Christians as the first-fruits (Jas. i. 18). But the Apostle Paul is not speaking OF PERSONS, but OF GIFTS; and there is only one tolerable interpretation—viz, that which refers the first-fruits to the commencement of the communications of the Spirit which are enjoyed in this life, but which are after all but a foretaste or first-fruits of what awaits us, in all its amplitude and fulness in eternity.
7. The other benefit is the Spirit’s HELP IN PRAYER (ver. 26). When Christians know not what to ask, the Spirit helps their infirmities, interceding IN THEM with unutterable groanings, while Christ intercedes FOR THEM.
The only other passage which I shall adduce from this Epistle is the prayer of Paul, that the Roman Christians might be filled with faith and hope through the power of the Holy Ghost. He ascribes both the origin and growth of these graces to the Holy Spirit (xv. 13).
The Epistle to the EPHESIANS, amid the deep truths opened up to a congregation which was specially prepared to take them in, interweaves the doctrine of the Spirit in a way which makes the train of the argument in the highest degree practical.
The economy in virtue of which the Holy Spirit is dispensed is thus exhibited in the prayer for the congregation: “Making mention of you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may grant unto you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him” (Eph. i. 17). He asks the Spirit on their behalf from the God of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, the dispenser of the Spirit, on the ground of Christ’s merits as the procuring cause. The import of the words: “The Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus,” comprehends a full discovery of what was planned and effected by God in the work of man’s redemption. We have here a numerous and varied class of blessings of which the Holy Ghost is the author or producing cause. It is what philologists call the genitive of the author. It must be added that “The Spirit of revelation in the knowledge of Christ” is a memorable title of the Spirit from the work which He performs upon the human mind (Eph. i. 17), in illuminating the eyes of the heart, as it is here expressed, to behold a beauty in divine things of which it had previously no conception. Notwithstanding the lingering remains of the image of God in reason, conscience, and the longing after immortality, there was not before this in man one spark from which the illumination of the understanding could arise—only darkness and enmity (1 Cor. ii. 14; Rom. viii. 7). The Spirit enlightens the understanding, which was previously alienated from the life of God (Eph. iv. 18), to perceive the truth of the gospel, as worthy of God and divinely adapted to human wants, and especially to receive the truth relating to Christ’s atonement. Not that the natural man could not with sufficient correctness grasp the thought in a speculative way; but it was much in the same way in which a blind-born man thinks or speaks of colours. When the eyes of the heart are opened, a glory is beheld in Christ’s person and work unknown before; and a light is conveyed to the mind which produces a transforming change on all its powers.
Another passage in this Epistle not less emphatic is: “Through Him (Christ) we both have access by [in] one Spirit unto the Father” (Eph. ii. 17). The apostle, speaking in the person of the Church composed of Jews and Gentiles, says: “We BOTH have access, or introduction, to the Father,” and he mentions the Mediator through whose merits that introduction is effected. He adds that it is IN ONE SPIRIT, whom we possess as a Spirit of faith and love, infusing confidence on the ground of Christ’s priesthood. The one Spirit can only mean the one Holy Ghost, which men of all nationalities, without distinction, now enjoy; and the force of the preposition: “IN one Spirit,” is by no means to be stripped of its significance, as has too often been done by commentators. The intention of the apostle was to bring out with precision the difference of the relation in which Christ and the Spirit stand to the Church,—the one as the meritorious Surety, the other as the life-giving agent who puts us in possession of the whole redemption.
In the use of a favourite expression, the apostle again calls the Spirit a SEAL and EARNEST. “After that ye believed ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, who is the earnest of our inheritance” (i. 13). To the same effect the apostle warns them not to grieve the Holy Spirit by whom they were sealed (iv. 30). As to the order in which this sealing stands, it comes after believing—that is, next after faith; and as to the SEAL itself, too much ingenuity has often been used in elucidating it. Without appealing to classical or Hebrew examples, it may suffice to say that the impress of a seal implies a relation to the owner of the seal, and is a sure token of something belonging to him. From the three passages where the term SEAL is expressly used, we gather that believers are God’s inviolable property, and known to be so by the Spirit dwelling in them. The sealing implies that the image engraven on the seal is impressed on the thing, or on the person sealed. In this case it is the image of God impressed on the heart by the enlightening, regenerating, and sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. By that seal believers are declared to be the inviolable property of God (2 Tim. ii. 19); and they are sealed to the day of redemption as something which is known to be inviolably secure as God’s property (Eph. iv. 30). Not only so: there is a subjective assurance which they acquire as to their own gracious state and final glory; for the Spirit is also called an EARNEST (arrabwn) as well as a seal—that is, a foretaste which is equivalent to the first-fruits of the Spirit, which are elsewhere mentioned (Eph. iv. 14).
The apostle prays in a second memorable prayer for the Ephesians, that they might be strengthened with might BY THE SPIRIT in the inner man, that Christ might dwell in their hearts by faith (iii. 16). The Spirit strengthens the believer by giving him a share in all the benefits and blessings which Christ procured, as well as by confirming faith and love, that the conscious indwelling of Christ may be realized; the indwelling of Christ answering to the strengthening or confirmation of the Spirit.
When the apostle refers to the Church, he calls it an habitation of God in the Spirit (Eph. ii. 22), and, by another figure, one body and one Spirit (iv. 4). Nor does he stop at doctrine: while enforcing Christian duty, he introduces the Holy Spirit in many connections. When he warns the Ephesians against indulging angry passions and unworthy practices, he says: “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God,” implying that such things on the part of Christians grieve the Spirit2 (iv. 30). When he exhorts them to prayer, he bids them pray with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit (vi. 18). When he warns them against intemperance, he immediately subjoins an exhortation, calculated in its exercise to exclude all tendency to the habit of intemperance by the spiritual joy and satisfaction which take possession of the Christian; but be filled with the Spirit (v. 18); for the enjoyment of that fulness of the Spirit satisfies the soul, and leaves it no longer a prey to intemperance or any such desires. But in what sense can the Christian be EXHORTED to be “filled with the Spirit,” when we call to mind that it is God alone by whom the Spirit is bestowed? The answer is easy. It is of God’s gracious gift when the Spirit replenishes any soul. But it is also a subject of exhortation. This is of the same nature with the exhortations in the Epistle to the Galatians: “walk in the Spirit” (Gal. v. 16, 25). The Father, in the covenant of grace, provided for the restoration of the Spirit; the Son procured the Spirit by His satisfaction, and lives to confer the gift; and we have only to receive and make room for Him daily, neither resisting nor grieving Him away from the heart, which is designed to be again the temple of the Holy Ghost.
In the Epistle to the PHILIPPIANS several allusions to the Holy Spirit are found, having reference partly to Paul’s own condition and partly to theirs. Errorists had not as yet troubled the Church from within, but marked intimations and warnings are given respecting them to this congregation, of whom the apostle always speaks with the deepest affection.
After noticing the mixed motives of some who preached the gospel of contention, not sincerely, the apostle adds: “I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and THE SUPPLY OF THE SPIRIT of Jesus Christ” (Phil. i. 19). According to his own declaration elsewhere, he was persuaded that all this would work together for good. Their prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Christ are not put together as coordinate. He means that all would redound to the victory of Christ’s cause, and to his own highest advantage, through the supply (epicorhgia) of the Spirit, while their prayer would be no unimportant subordinate link in the chain. As to the words here used, the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of Jesus Christ,” not only because He is from the Son as well as from the Father, according to the eternal procession from both, but because the gift of the Spirit is derived from Christ’s merits. He procured by His obedience and satisfaction not only the restoration of the divine favour, but the gift of the Holy Ghost, who is thus rightly called the Spirit of Jesus Christ. The more copious effusion of the Spirit is referred to the action of Christ no less than to the action of the Father, who, according to the covenant of grace, gave to the Son the power of sending the Spirit, and of conferring all the benefits which were acquired by His death (Zech. xii. 10).
The apostle expresses his confidence that the cause of the gospel would be promoted by the aid of the Spirit of Christ, who would not only cause the truth to triumph over falsehood, but nerve him with necessary courage to seal, if need be, his testimony with his blood. But that no one might imagine that these results would be given to the indolent or lukewarm, the apostle links the supply (epicorhgia) of the Spirit with the PRAYERS of believing men in the Church, to which he was writing; for he constantly asked prayer as a means of spreading Christian truth. Such is the weakness of human efforts, that we accomplish nothing unless the Holy Ghost is the guide and ruler of all our actions, and unless He is invocated, as it is here intimated that He should be invocated, by the Church, as alone able to bring help.
To ward off the danger of disunion and mutual alienation, of which there was no little fear (iv. 2), the apostle bids them stand fast in ONE SPIRIT (i. 27); and at the commencement of the second chapter, he bases one of his arguments for unity, love, and concord on the fact that they had received the communication (not fellowship) of the Spirit; for this communication evinces itself in unity and love.
Another passage referring to the worship of God in the Spirit is: “We are the circumcision who WORSHIP GOD IN THE SPIRIT, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (iii. 3); the contrast being between worship in the Spirit and ritualistic tendencies. The apostle depreciates circumcision: he speaks of it as nothing better now than concision, and by contrast he says we are the circumcision, the spiritual Church. The next clause is: who worship God in the Spirit, as the result of regeneration, and as deduced from it. it is not to be resolved into the vague idea of spiritual worship, as commentators too commonly expound it, but to be viewed as worship in the power of the Spirit; the term Spirit being plainly the echo of the promise: “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.” The reference is not so much to sanctification—though that, too, is comprehended—as to the adoption of sons; nor does the apostle stop there, for another equally important point is, that this worship of God in the Spirit discovers itself in the exercise of rejoicing in Christ Jesus—that is, as not leading away from Christ, but to Christ, and inducing a reliance on Christ’s merits and offices, and His whole mediatorial work. And in that proportion men abandon or forego all confidence in the flesh. The whole is an anticlimax, the first clause in the natural order being “we have no confidence in the flesh.”
The Pauline Epistles, which yet remain to be noticed, contain only a few additional allusions, and our survey of them may be brief.
The Epistle to the COLOSSIANS, written to anchor the Church in sound doctrine against erroneous views, contains but one express allusion to the doctrine of the Spirit, though the whole Epistle implies it. The apostle, referring to Epaphras, says: “Who also declared to us your love in the Spirit” (i. 8). The Greek exegetes, followed by not a few Protestants, throw this into the vague phrase: “spiritual love,” as contrasted with ordinary love in the relations of life. The love was to be exercised toward Paul, who was absent, and not personally known to the Colossians; and hence he calls it “your love in the Spirit,” because the Spirit was its producing cause or author. The love to the Saints was a fruit of the Spirit, as is elsewhere described.
The Epistles to the THESSALONIANS contain the following allusions to the doctrine of the Spirit. When the apostle recalls their first reception of the gospel, he says: “Our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and much assurance” (1 Thess. i. 5). Various interpretations have been given of these words, but they offer, really, little difficulty. The obvious meaning suggested by the antithesis is, that the gospel was accompanied with converting power; and when it is added, “and in the Holy Ghost,” Calvin makes the expression refer merely to THE AUTHOR of the previously mentioned power. Others refer the words to the gifts of the Spirit, especially the supernatural gifts conferred upon believers in the apostolic age to confirm the truth (Gal. iii. 2). Whether we accept the one view or the other, there was a full certainty (plhroforia), a complete and perfect satisfaction, from which all dubiety was removed. According to this interpretation, the terms do not refer to the power with which Paul preached, as many suppose, but to the experience of the Thessalonians who received the Spirit.
There are allusions also to the sin of despising the Spirit and of quenching the Spirit. As to the first, it is said: “He that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given to us His Holy Spirit” (1 Thess. iv. 8). This language seems to refer to the INSPIRATION and supernatural guidance given to the apostles in revealing divine truth. As to quenching the Spirit (1 Thess. v. 19), the allusion must either be to the supernatural gifts, as many interpret the passage, or to the testimony of the Spirit, which may be quenched through sinful practices, indifference, or neglect. It is best to understand it of the supernatural operation of the Spirit, as the following verse, containing a warning not to despise prophecy, seems to imply.
“God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation THROUGH SANCTIFICATION OF THE SPIRIT and belief of the truth” (2 Thess. ii. 13). The believing reception of the gospel was effected by the Spirit changing their hearts. The apostle, by the phrase “ "the sanctification of the Spirit,” means the cause by which their effectual calling was begun and carried out. The Spirit produced a full separation in heart and tone of mind from an ungodly world, thus setting apart all who were included in God’s gracious purpose or decree. He works faith in them as the Spirit of sanctification.
When we examine the two EPISTLES TO TIMOTHY, only two allusions to the doctrine of the Spirit call for special mention. In the first Epistle, He who was manifest in the flesh is said to be justified in the Spirit (1 Tim. iii. 6). Of all the explanations that have been attempted of this expression, only two deserve attention. The one is, that Christ had proclaimed Himself the Son of God, and been put to death as a blasphemer, and that He was now raised up by His own divine nature, and justified in all that claim. The other interpretation, which I prefer, is, that He was put to death as a public person, as the second Adam, under the charge of our imputed guilt, and that as our Surety He was justified by the Holy Spirit when He rose.
The SECOND EPISTLE TO TIMOTHY repeats the frequent expression: “the Holy Ghost that dwelleth in us,, (2 Tim. i. 14), which may be taken indeed as the brief formula of all living Christianity. The charge to Timothy to keep the gospel doctrine committed to him, was to be carried out only by dependence on the Spirit, and in believing prayer for His influences: “Keep through the HOLY GHOST which dwelleth in us.”
The EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS, which, with the Greek Church, I accept as of Pauline origin, brings out several points in the doctrine of the Spirit. As to the person of Christ, it sets forth how the Redeemer, through the eternal Spirit, offered Himself without spot to God (Heb. ix. 14), and how God anointed Him with the Holy Ghost as the oil of gladness above His fellows as His reward (i. 9). The testimony to the work of the Spirit in the inspiration of Scripture is very emphatic, e.g.: the Holy Ghost says (Heb. iii. 7); the Holy Ghost signifying this (ix. 8); whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us (x. 15). The vast array of miracles and supernatural gifts with which the preaching of the gospel or the New Economy was ushered in is described as the accompanying testimony of God, with signs and wonders, and divers miracles and GIFTS OF THE HOLY GHOST according to His own will (ii. 4). The two difficult passages which involve the apostasy of some professing Christians after being made partakers of the Holy Ghost (vi. 4), and where the parties have done despite to the Spirit of grace (x. 29), are instances of men receiving only the supernatural gifts,3 not true grace.