The Deity of the Holy Spirit

George Smeaton



The Fall involved three things which must be regarded as presuppositions to the whole doctrine of the Spirit which we are now discussing:— (1.) The withdrawal of the Holy Spirit from the human heart as one of the penal consequences of sin. Man, destitute of the Spirit, is now called flesh (Gen. vi. 3); and they who live the life of sinful nature are designated “earthly, sensual, having not the Spirit (Jude 19). The Holy Spirit, in consequence of the Fall, departed from the human heart, which was once His temple, and the frame of which sufficiently proves that it was at first a fit habitation for the divine presence. Only the ruins can now be traced.

(2.) The Fall involved our captivity to Satan, which he maintained by right of conquest. The evil spirit entered the heart when the Holy Spirit withdrew, and continues to lead men captive, working in the children of disobedience (Eph. ii. 2).

(3.) The image of God, in which Adam was created, was replaced by the entire corruption of man’s nature (John iii. 6). His understanding had been furnished with a true and saving knowledge of his Creator and of spiritual things; his heart and will had been upright; all his affections had been pure; and the whole man holy: but, revolting from God by the temptation of the devil, the opposite of all that image of God became his doleful heritage; and his posterity derive corruption from their progenitor, not by imitation, but by the propagation of a vicious nature, which is incapable of any saving good. It is prone to evil, and dead in sin. It is not denied that there still linger in man since the Fall some glimmerings of natural light, some knowledge of God and of the difference between good and evil, and some regard for virtue and good order in society. But it is all too evident that, WITHOUT THE REGENERATING GRACE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, men are neither able nor willing to return to God, or to reform their natural corruption.1


In view of the Fall a covenant or method of restoration had been formed, according to which we find the persons of the Godhead acting their proper part on man’s behalf; for no covenant could have been directly formed between God and fallen sinners. The agreement, pact, or covenant was, that the Father, holding in His hands the rights of God, should send the Son as the one Mediator between God and men; that the incarnate Son, as the second Adam, should fulfil the law and bear our sins in His own body; and that the Holy Ghost should then return with a plenitude of grace and of power to be forfeited no more.

No sooner had sin entered than we find the Mediator carrying out by His Spirit the provisions of the remedial plan by announcing the gospel, viz, that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head, and putting enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. There THE WORD AND THE SPIRIT are already in Conjunction—the one filling the mind with truth, the other filling it with spiritual life. From the first we have brought before us the ruin and the remedy; then the two opposite families; then a marked revival in the days of Enos; then as marked a declension. We hold it as antagonistic to all Biblical doctrine to represent the first man, as the Rationalistic theory uniformly represents him, as originally made on a lower platform, and as always mounting higher.

My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh (Gen. vi. 3).—With whatever shade of meaning the word rendered strive may be connected, the general import unquestionably is, that the forbearance long exercised was about to close, that the antediluvians had rejected the testimony of the Spirit, addressed to them by inspired or Spirit-filled men, and despised every call to repentance and faith. He who thus speaks of His Spirit is undoubtedly Christ. This we learn from Peter, the inspired commentator on the words in Genesis, who says that Christ by the Spirit went and preached to these antediluvians or spirits in prison, who were alive when Noah preached to them, but were spirits in prison or hell when Peter wrote his Epistle (1 Pet. iii. 19). The Spirit of Christ speaking by Enoch and Noah was about to leave that corrupt generation to its doom. The Messiah, having received the Spirit by anticipation for the purposes of His kingdom, on the ground of the coming atonement, preached the gospel to them by the mouth of Noah, and the message was impiously rejected. The Spirit of Christ, who filled and animated all the prophets, not only summoned them to repentance, but testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glory that’ should follow (1 Pet. i. 11).


We come next to Abraham, who was called to leave his country and kindred. The God of glory appeared to him (Acts vii. 2), and vouchsafed to him no fewer than eight theophanies or manifestations of Himself After the days of Noah we find no new revelations till it pleased God by the call of Abraham to work a new thing in the earth, to separate a single family from the rest of the nations, and thus in reality to institute a Church, which should serve God apart. This call was accompanied with another great proclamation of the gospel, similar to what had been given to our first parents in the garden. The first promise by which multitudes had been saved was that the woman’s seed should bruise the serpent’s head. The word now announced was that in Abraham’s seed all the families of the earth should be blessed (Gen. xviii. 18, xxii. 18). Momentous and suggestive as this promise was, we cannot discuss all its elements. The point that demands attention in connection with our theme is that the blessing of Abraham, according to the interpretation of the Apostle Paul, includes in it THE PROMISE OF THE SPIRIT (Gal. iii. 14). To make this plain, we have only to notice that when God gives a blessing, it is given in free and unmerited grace to sinful men (Rom. iv. 5). The apostle, by divine inspiration, reads into that ancient promise the two things undoubtedly contained in it when the blessing was announced, viz, that faith on the promised seed was counted for righteousness, and that he should receive the promise of the Spirit by faith. Through faith on the promised seed of Abraham, who came in the fulness of time, the Gentiles also are justified by faith as Abraham was, and receive the promised Spirit in all the amplitude of His gifts and grace. All this was in the promise given to Abraham, according to the apostle’s authoritative interpretation, and not a jot has failed of its accomplishment.

It may be added that Abraham was called a prophet, and therefore he had the Spirit (Gen. xx. 6). The three patriarchs, indeed, who are called the first-fruit and root of the covenant people (Rom. xi. 16), evinced in many ways, and especially at the close of life, the Spirit of prophecy. In Joseph we see the same gift continued, and it was made the means of preserving the Old Testament Church; for the language of Pharaoh in reference to him was plainly borrowed from Joseph himself, when he said: “Can we find such a man as this — a man in whom the Spirit of God is?” (Gen. xli. 38).


It seems hard to find the doctrine of the Spirit when we turn our thoughts to an Economy where we meet at the very threshold more of law than promise, more of the letter and of the shadow than of grace. The line between the Abrahamic Covenant and the Mosaic Economy, it must be owned, has not always been well or rightly drawn. Nay, the widest difference of opinion has prevailed both among Churches and individual divines. But we may put all these divergences on one side, and content ourselves with Biblical ideas. We find, according to the Pauline description of this difference, that the promise made to Abraham was irrevocable; that the legal Economy could not disannul it; and that it entered only as an intervening and temporary dispensation, the scope of which was to convince men of sin, and make them repair to the great promised Seed of Abraham (Gal. iii. 15—19). The underlying covenant with Abraham, on which it rested, supported the whole. The blessing of Abraham and the promise of the Spirit were never awanting to them that believed. The Spirit, indeed, was more sparingly imparted; and there were elements of law before every mind, and a covering veil over all.

In reference to Moses, we find explicit statements that he was raised up and qualified by the Spirit of God for his great commission. When the Lord, to relieve his heavy burden, associated seventy elders to bear rule along with him, He said: “I will take of the Spirit that is upon thee, and put it upon them” (Num. xi. 17). We see from that memorable narrative that the Spirit rested upon them as the spirit of prophecy, a fact which accredited their commission. The incident connected with Eldad and Medad made that donation of the Spirit all the more remarkable. Moses was directed to take Joshua, a man in whom was the Spirit, and to lay his hand on him (Num. xxvii. 18; Deut. xxxiv. 9). Many passages in like manner speak of the Spirit of God coming upon men in a supernatural way, that they might be equipped for official service. The Spirit’s work in this period is seen in many spiritually-minded men, as well as in the supernaturally gifted few. The miraculous gifts which at times were copiously given were but a sign, and might be withdrawn, while the Spirit of Life remained. The same spirit of faith and the same new nature were always found in a remnant forming the true Church of God, in reference to which God said by Jeremiah: “I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness” (Jer. ii. 2). The presence of the Spirit appeared in the drops from heaven accompanying the Sinai Covenant, which, with all its sternness and shadows, was a mode of administering the covenant of grace (Ps. lxviii. 8).

The Spirit is seen also in inspiring Moses to commit to writing the word of God, the great outward means for promoting the spiritual good of the children of men. We see the Spirit’s work, moreover, in all the theophanies and audible voices, in all the prophecies and types outwardly given; but we see it also in that spiritual illumination of multitudes of true believers, which is far different from the inner consciousness of which our modern divines are fond of speaking. There are two noteworthy passages which refer to the comforting power of the Spirit during the wilderness sojourn, and which apply to the Church at large, and not to the super-naturally gifted few: (1) “Thou gayest also Thy good Spirit to instruct them, and withheldest not Thy manna” (Neh. ix. 20); (2) “Where is He that put His Holy Spirit within him?” (Isa. lxiii. 11); “As a beast goeth down to the valley, the Spirit of the Lord caused him to rest” (ver. 14).


The Spirit of God is not mentioned in the whole Book of Joshua. Joshua himself, indeed, was full of the spirit of wisdom (Deut. xxxiv. 9). After the elders who outlived Joshua had passed away, we find the indications of a great change.

In the Book of Judges, which ushers us into a period of declension, repeated allusion is made to the fact that the Spirit of God came upon men supernaturally gifted, and who were raised up for the deliverance of Israel. The people from time to time did evil in the sight of the Lord; they were delivered into the hand of some of the neighbouring nations; they repented and cried to the Lord—an alternating state of things which we find pervading the entire book; and then a bold leader was raised up by the Spirit of God to deliver them. Thus the Spirit of the Lord came upon Othniel, and he judged Israel (Judg. iii. 10); upon Gideon (vi. 34); upon Jephthah (xi. 29); and upon Samson, a very mixed character, with strong faith, but with equally great personal defects all too marked (xiv. 19). Then war was waged successfully on the nations which had oppressed them. The Spirit of God, the author of all those gifts which they received, intellectual as well as spiritual, kindled in them intrepid valour; for God was King of the Theocracy, and it redounded to His glory to break the yoke of the oppressor, when the purposes of discipline were served. One hero after another, endowed with extraordinary courage, patriotism, and zeal, was raised up by the Spirit of God to deliver Israel.

After the unquiet times of the judges, a period of marked revival appears in the days of Samuel, the last of the judges. Next to Moses, Samuel, who walked with a reformatory zeal and power in the steps of the former, may be regarded as the greatest benefactor of the nation, which, in the interval between the two, had forgotten the law, lost true conceptions of God, sensualized His worship, and become enfeebled by irreligion and vice. In a higher sense than could be affirmed of any other of the judges, Samuel was a deliverer of the nation; for he delivered it from irreligion, ignorance, and vice. This was a transition-period to the flourishing times of the Israelitish kingdom. When the Spirit came upon Samuel at that time, God imparted to him one theophany after another, and a new state of things was introduced. The spirit of prophecy filled Samuel in a peculiar way (1 Sam. x. 20); and from his time downwards an order or school of prophets arose. A whole line of prophets, not in lineal succession like the priesthood, but in a succession of a higher order, appeared to guide the future history of Israel. We are thus supplied with a true idea of the nature of prophecy, on which we can cast only a passing glance, because a full description of this remarkable institution would demand a far more many-sided inquiry than either our aim or our limits will permit.

The prophet required for the duties of his function the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Ghost. He personally represented the cause of God, and viewed historical events of every class, as they occurred, in relation to Jehovah and His law. Hence his message was largely the proclamation of warnings and menaces, or the burden of the Lord, which the ungodly often turned into ridicule. He was the organ of the Holy Spirit; and it was the impulse imparted by the Spirit of God that animated and enlightened him. The Lord Jesus by the Spirit, whom He dispensed by anticipation for the purposes of His kingdom, on the ground of the future atonement, revealed Himself to their spirit, moving them to speak and act, and also to write when an addition was to be made to the Old Testament canon. It was not according to their will that they either spoke or continued silent. Like a musical instrument which gives out its tones only as it is struck, they simply obeyed as the Spirit acted on each prophetic mind at His pleasure, using all those peculiar gifts or aptitudes with which He bad endowed the different individuals for the end He had in view, and which were called into activity only so far as they were moved by the Holy Ghost (2 Pet. i. 21); and hence they acted as God’s servants, or as His mouth, whenever they spoke the words of God (Ex. iv. 16; 2 Kings ix. 7). The prophet, accordingly, is described as a man of the Spirit, who felt himself apprehended by the Spirit (Hos. ix. 7); and a discretionary commission was never entrusted to him. God never deposited the gracious supplies of His Spirit in Churches, ministry, or ordinances, to be dispensed at man’s discretion or caprice. Nor did it run counter to this undoubted truth when Elisha asked and obtained a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. The request amounted to nothing more than this: that the same Spirit that dwelt in the departing prophet might by the dispensation of God’s free gift dwell in a large measure also in him: much like the arrangement according to which the first-born got a double portion of the inheritance.

The influence wielded by these Spirit-filled men was great. They were watchmen and shepherds (Isa. xxi. 11; Zech. xi. 3). As contrasted with what was merely political, they represented the spiritual elements of the kingdom of God; and as contrasted with the frequently secularized priests, with their outward forms and sacrifices, they laid emphasis on the fear of God and the spiritual elements of true religion (Isa. i. 11-15; 1 Sam. xv. 22). Again, as compared with the kings, who often leant on an arm of flesh, the prophets, men of the Spirit, uniformly counselled trust, not in confederacies, but in the God of Israel (Isa. viii. 12).

Into the mode of giving them the gift of prophecy it is needless to inquire; for it was simply miraculous, and therefore inscrutable. They who received this gift had an intimation of the divine will, and therefore received something that they had not before. They performed what was competent only to those who were inspired, and therefore announced something not directly communicated to the rest of the people. No prophet alleged that he obtained from God the gift or the aptitude of intimating the divine will, or of foretelling future events at his discretion. That power or capacity was never given to them. Thus Jeremiah expressly said that he knew not that they had devised devices against him (Jer. xi. 18). Daniel denied that he knew the dream or the interpretation by any wisdom of his own; and it was in answer to prayer that the secret, which no wise man or astrologer could ever have discovered, was made known to him (Dan. ii. 19, 30). It is clear that the prophets never wished it to be understood that they gave forth their predictions as the result of their own wisdom. On the contrary, they declared that God alone knew future and contingent events; and that He claimed this knowledge as His absolute prerogative (Isa. xlii. 9). The word of the Lord, moreover, came only at certain times. The prophets never supposed, nor did the Israelites believe, that the power of prophecy was possessed by any man as a constant or uninterrupted gift. This sufficiently shows that the writers of the Old Testament understood that the Spirit of God was a personal agent, that He was very God.

When we put all these facts together, it is clear that the Spirit of God is something distinct from the prophet’s mind, and apart from any natural capacity with which he was endowed. We nowhere read that God first revealed something to the Holy Spirit as if He were not consubstantial with God Himself, and then charged Him to convey the communication to the prophet. On the contrary, while there is a certain order of subsistence and operation in the Godhead, the Spirit of God is always spoken of as possessing divine intelligence, omnipotence, and omnipresence; and all the prophecies are uniformly spoken of as the immediate act of God Himself. The personal Holy Spirit, or the Prophetic Spirit, is called “The Spirit of God” in the Books of Samuel.

The result of our investigation up to this point demonstrates that the Spirit of God is not, as the modern thought alleges, a virtue or excellency of the human spirit which is to be sought and obtained from God. That theory of the modern theology is utterly baseless.2 In the very oldest books of Scripture, and in all the stream of history downwards, THE SPIRIT OF GOD is always introduced as the Personal Creative Spirit of God.


The number of sacred books which appeared during this period is large. They include the Psalms in good measure, the writings of Solomon, Hosea, Joel, Micah, Isaiah, in all which we have express allusions to the Holy Spirit. And in tracing out the doctrine in these books, we shall not permit ourselves to be swayed by that evacuating criticism which either breaks up the books into parts and fragments, or takes no account of the light reflected on the record as a whole by the supplementary and authoritative teaching of Christ and His apostles.

When David was anointed by Samuel to be king, we read: “The Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward (1 Sam. xvi. 13). His soul was so filled with the consciousness of his high destiny, and with the animating power and presence of the Spirit of God, that he became a different man. He was not only filled with the office-gifts necessary for rule, but was faithful to the principles which devolved on him as the subordinate or under-king of a divine Theocracy. The same Spirit that ennobled and guided him abandoned Saul.

Nor must we forget the inspiration given to him. “The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and His word was in my tongue (2 Sam. xxiii. 2). He received divine communications, intelligible enough to him as a prophet (Acts ii. 30), as to the birth and sufferings, the death, the resurrection, and glory of his greater seed, or offspring,—all which are wrought into the Psalms. He refers in that closing utterance to the prophetic Spirit which had rested on him, and he virtually announces: “All my Psalms were composed by the inspiration and guidance of the Spirit of the Lord.”

But while these allusions to the Spirit are of a more public and official character, there are others in which we trace the Spirit’s operations upon himself as a regenerate and sanctified man:

Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from Thy presence? (Ps. cxxxix. 7). In this psalm, which may have been prepared before he ascended the throne, the omnipresence and omniscience which are affirmed of God are also declared to be equally the attributes of the Spirit of God. The psalm sets forth a gracious and beneficent omnipresence. It is only learned trifling, all too plainly betraying an unchristian bias, when it is expounded as meaning: “Whither shall I go from Thy stormy wind.” The allusion is to the personal Spirit—“Thy Spirit”—graciously omnipresent in all the universe to the believing mind. This is not a flight of imagination.

In the 51st Psalm also David prays: “Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me (Ps. ii. 11). David had grievously sinned, and in that psalm, which contains the expression of his repentance, he penitently prays that the Holy Spirit may not be taken from him. Previous to his fall he must have tasted the joy of God’s salvation, and possessed that free Spirits when he pleads with such a vehement desire for the Spirit’s restoration. Here, for the first time, we have the epithet HOLY connected with the Spirit of God. He is not only the Spirit of wisdom and the Spirit of power, but the Holy Spirit. And in another psalm He is designated the GOOD Spirit.

Thy Spirit is good: lead me,” or “let Thy good Spirit lead me into the land of uprightness (Ps. cxliii. 10). He prayed that the same good Spirit that had always led him might lead him still. We cannot depart from the usual meaning of the expression “THY SPIRIT,” as alluding to the personal Holy Ghost.

The unction and fragrance of the Spirit with which the Psalms are replete lead me to notice, before leaving this portion of our survey, that it is an utter misconception to represent the Old Testament religion as more fed by mundane hopes than by the influence of the Holy Spirit. It is to lose sight of all the numerous expressions of joy, rapture, and praise with which the Psalms abound from the first to the last, and to pervert the plainest evidence, to affirm, as Cocceius and his school affirmed, that there was neither sonship nor the spirit of adoption in the Old Testament Church. That is to ignore the Abrahamic Covenant, and Christ’s divine presence with His Church, and merely to fix all attention upon the intermediate and transitory Sinai Covenant. But the Psalms to which we are adverting, when considered as the actual expression of praise for the Israelitish Church, as well as a legacy handed down to us in the Christian Church, sufficiently refute that view. No book of a similar kind was prepared for the New Testament Church. The Holy Spirit, replenishing the sweet singers of Israel with spiritual truth and holy love, anticipated in this way much of the necessity that should be felt in Christian times. I am not here discussing the important, though still debated point as to the use of psalms in the Christian public worship. My object is to show the spirituality of the Israelitish Church as evinced by its inspired and invaluable psalms. They describe the eternity and omnipresence, the majesty and condescension, the justice and mercy of God in a strain of the most fervid devotion. They sing of repentance and faith, of joy in God and delight in God’s law, with an ardour beyond which it is impossible to go. They depict Christ’s royal reign and His union with His Church; the anointing with the oil of gladness (Ps. xlv. 7); the receiving of gifts for men (Ps. lxviii. 18); and the supreme dominion with which Christ was to be invested by the Father with a tenderness, unction, and joy to which no other words are equal. And those psalms which are called “new songs” anticipate the full millennial glory.

To reason back from effect to cause, the power and presence of the Spirit in ample fulness must have been graciously conferred to produce these psalms, and to use them fitly when prepared. We trace the power of God’s Spirit in turning the captivity of Israel, and in filling them with penitence. Not only so: the apostle, when adducing the quotation from the Psalms, “I believed, therefore have I spoken,” prefixes, “We having the same spirit of faith—we also believe and therefore speak” (2 Cor. iv. 13 ; Ps. cxvi. 10). The language of the apostle affirms that he and the Church had the same faith and the possession of the same Spirit. From this fact, and from the whole series of quotations made from these Psalms, it is evident that the experience of the Church was the same in both economies, though complexional varieties attached to each. But these varieties, as Calvin3 well remarks, describe the Church more in its CORPORATE character than in the experience of the individual members. The true Church in the Old Testament, whatever might be the character of the nominal adherents, cannot be said to be unspiritual when we trace a faith and a knowledge of God, a fidelity and courage, an endurance and self-denial in all that great cloud of witnesses that fill us with astonishment, and leave us conscious that we are practically far behind (Heb. xi. 1-40).

When we peruse the sacred writings which came from the hand of Solomon, we find not only evidence of the Spirit’s illumination, but the most express reference to the Spirit in connection with the preacher’s words: “Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my Spirit unto you (Prov. i. 23). He means the graces of the indwelling Spirit, which were enjoyed then as well as now.


  1. See Articles of Dort.
  2. By a perversion of all sound exegesis, DIEHL, in the Jaarboeken voor Wetenschappelijke Theologie, 1850, and KLEINERT, in the Jahrbücher für Deutsche Theologie, 1861, in this Sabellian way explain away all these texts. So also do VON CÖLLN, STEUDEL, etc., in treating of Old Testament theology.
  3. See Calvin’s admirable remarks on Gal. iv. 1, etc.


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