The Deity of the Holy Spirit

George Smeaton



We come now to the writings of the PROPHETS expressly so called. And in these we find many allusions to the Spirit of God. If we classify them, we may say, (1) that some of them refer to the time then present, and to the way in which the Spirit helped the prophets to fulfil their office; (2) that some refer to the great effusion, when the Spirit should be poured upon the Church from on high; (3) that some refer to the unction awaiting the Messiah, which was the great central thought of the Jewish religion, as it is of all revealed religion.

HOSEA, the oldest writing prophet perhaps, and placed at the head of the minor prophets, speaks of “the man of the Spirit” (Hos. ix. 7). Whether, with many expositors, we refer the words to the boastful language of the false prophets, or refer them to the perplexity of the true prophets in a time of apostasy, such as Hosea encountered among the ten tribes, they bring out the general notion entertained in regard to the prophets, that they were men of the Spirit.

JOEL, sent about the same time to Judah, gives the prediction respecting the great outpouring of the Spirit which was reserved for the last days: “and it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh (Joel ii. 28). The Spirit, called by the divine speaker “my Spirit,” is the Holy Spirit promised in connection with Messianic times. According to the New Testament quotation (Acts ii.), there is a shade of meaning not to be lost in the words “of my Spirit” (apo), distinguishing between the measure vouchsafed to men and the inexhaustible fulness in the resources of the fountain. The expression: “I will pour out,” can refer only to the Lord, from whom the Spirit proceeds, and by whom He is sent. The Lord God, who dwelt in the midst of His Church, promised that He would amply compensate it for the reproach of barrenness by imparting the copious supply of His Spirit. There is one party who sends and another who is poured out, personally distinct, but not different in essence. And this gracious promise as to the outpouring of the Spirit, when read in the full light of New Testament times, must be regarded as historically fulfilled at Pentecost; and the blessing must be viewed as dispensed by the MESSIAH, the Son of God. This is to be ascribed to the incarnate Son, in whom all fulness dwells; and the effusion itself consisted in the communication of the Holy Spirit by His gracious presence and operation.

Plainly we are to understand the ordinary as well as the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit. The effects flowing from that effusion of the Spirit were prophetic gifts to be conferred on the New Testament Church as well as on its several members; one and the same Spirit distributing to every one severally, according to His will. Joel divides the gifts into three classes—prophecy, dreams, and visions. There are various interpretations of these three promised gifts; but the allusion is to different forms of revelation. As to PROPHECY, it is either taken more generally for an intimation of the divine will, or more strictly for the prediction of future events by the aid of the Holy Spirit. As to DREAMS, they were certain images presented to the mind in sleep, and understood by the Spirit’s interpretation in such a way that no doubt was entertained either as to their import or their origin. As to VISIONS, they were appearances submitted to the eye or to the cognitive faculty, and must be understood as immediate revelations while the seer was asleep or awake.

But neither are we to exclude the ordinary and sanctifying gifts of the Spirit. This appears, beyond dispute, from the fact that, according to the intention of the supreme Dispenser of them, that shower of heavenly gifts, which filled the mind of those to whom they were promised, was meant to lead them to a true invocation derived from faith, or to “call on the name of the Lord.” They were converting and sanctifying gifts, such as faith, hope, love, and invocation. They were also ministerial gifts for awakening and edifying the mind of others.

We need specially to consider what is intimated by the ALL FLESH, on whom this gracious effusion of the Spirit was to be conferred. When we ask what was meant by Joel’s prophecy that the Spirit was to be poured upon ALL FLESH, the allusion cannot be, as Grotius held, to worthy Israelites. Nor can it be limited, as Origen limits it, to Churches gathered from the Gentiles. Another interpretation is that the term ALL is sometimes used in Scripture to denote classes; and hence Chrysostom, Luther, Gerhard, refer it to classes of individuals, but they restrict it to the display of SUPERNATURAL gifts at the commencement day of the New Testament Church. In this sense it will mean that men of every sort were replenished at Pentecost with the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, viz., every age, sex, and condition. But the promise CANNOT BE LIMITED TO THAT DAY, nor to the miraculous gifts then communicated. This appears from the Apostle Peter’s commentary when he said: “Repent and be baptized every one of you, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts ii. 38),—where the reference is plainly to the sanctifying gifts of the Spirit and to his gracious inhabitation. And the apostle added that the promise was to them, and to their children, and to all that were afar off. Others, as Glassius, make it men of every class in all nations. While the MIRACULOUS GIFTS, specially given to organize and found the Church, must be regarded as, in part, the accomplishment of Joel’s prophecy, THE SAVING AND SANCTIFYING GIFTS must also be included down to the latest times. The phrase “upon all flesh” implies all nations, without distinction: for God was to pour out His Spirit on all nations, without distinction of Jew and Gentile, the partition-wall being taken down. No distinction was to be made, either in SOCIAL CONDITION or in NATIONALITY. as was intimated by the promise that the gifts should descend on old men and young, on Sons and daughters, on servants and handmaids.

A question here arises: Are we to conclude that Joel’s prophecy was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, or was that outpouring of the Spirit but the symbol and dawn of another fulfilment yet to come? That it was fulfilled on Pentecost, ought not be doubtful to any one who reads Peter’s sermon at the descent of the Spirit. “This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel” (Acts ii. 16): and there is no indication here or elsewhere that this Dispensation shall ever be replaced by another. It was the opening of the river of the water of life which will flow on for ever. Where should we find a proof of Christ’s Messiahship, or of the Christian Church,—as contrasted with the Israelitish community still adhering to the covenant at Sinai,—if the fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy did not take place, as Peter declared it did, on that Pentecost immediately following the Lord’s ascension? That was not A MERE TRANSITORY EVENT or TYPE OF ANOTHER FULFILMENT. For neither Joel nor any other prophet speaks of any more definite fulfilment. Besides, Peter expressly pointed to this as the. fulfilment. But the fulfilment is A GERMINANT FULFILMENT, which takes in all subsequent times. The effusion was not an abruptly terminated fact. It was not a type: for shadows and types have ceased. It is the issuing forth of the river of the water of life, which will flow on till it cover and fertilize all lands (Ezek. xlvii 1).

ISAIAH and MICAH, contemporary prophets in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, refer, in various passages, very emphatically to the Spirit of God. I adduce Micah first in order. He had to combat the false prophets who made the people err, and who cried peace (iii. 5); for false prophets appeared among the people, and were permitted, for holy ends, to try the faithfulness of Israel in the course of God’s moral government (2 Pet. ii. 1). And the princes, as well as the people, were swayed by their flattering words. Hence the princes sometimes enjoined silence on the true prophet, saying, Prophesy not (Mic. ii. 6). When it is said: “Is the Spirit of the Lord straitened? (Mic. ii. 7), that was the prophet’s stern answer to those who would silence him. He intimates: Is the Spirit of the Lord so weakened and straitened that He dare not reprove you, or does He fail of resources to make His voice and authority felt? Will the divine Spirit yield to your presumptuous will? And when he says: “I am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord, and of judgment, and of might, to declare to Jacob his transgressions (Mic. iii. 8), that is an announcement in the same tone. The prophet, with power and courage derived from the Spirit of the Lord, declares to the nation its sin; and though the nation resents the reproof, and would avoid, if possible, the summons to hear the stern tenor of his message, it must be compelled to hear it. The prophet, moved by the Spirit of the Lord, compels attention to his words. The Spirit and power are conjoined as cause and effect, but distinguished. The prophet was also full of judgment by the same Spirit, that is, with the capacity of discerning the evil and the good in human actions, full of might or resolute perseverance also by the same Spirit.

ISAIAH has scattered throughout his prophecies allusions to the Spirit so manifold and various, in express descriptions and in brief, turns of phrase, that it might not be difficult to put together, from his words, the complete doctrine of the Spirit. I shall briefly glance at the outline which he gives.

(a) He speaks of the Holy Spirit more generally. In the past history of Israel which he gives, the prophet shows that the nation in their wilderness-life was graciously supplied with the Spirit, and that He dwelt among them and gave them rest (Isa. lxiii. 11 and 14); but they rebelled against Him, and vexed His Holy Spirit (ver. 10). Events occurring in the moral government of God—such as the gathering of the vultures to their prey—are also ascribed to the Spirit as the executive of all the divine purposes: “My mouth it hath commanded, and HIS SPIRIT it hath gathered them” (Isa. xxxiv. 16). The purging of Jerusalem from defilement and blood is also ascribed to the Spirit of judgment and burning; that is, to the Spirit of God acting as the author and cause of all these effects, which are not penal, but gracious (Isa. iv. 4). Sinners taking counsel, but not of God, that they may take their own way, are said to cover with a covering — or to shelter themselves under a shelter and protection—which is not of GOD’S SPIRIT; that is, they ran counter to the dissuasives and warnings which the prophet addressed to them (Isa. xxx. 1).

(b) Isaiah’s allusions to the Spirit’s work as the anointer of the Messiah with the necessary unction for His office are particularly noteworthy. He introduces the Servant of the Lord saying: “And now the Lord God has sent me and His Spirit (Isa. xlviii. 16). This is a much preferable translation to that of the Authorized Version, which is here faulty. The rendering we have accepted is preferable, and has been followed by some of the best exegetes, such as Cocceius, Vitringa, and Lampe. One conclusive argument which may be adduced against the Authorized Version is, that the mission of Christ is never ascribed to the Spirit; and that the Persons of the Trinity, who are all referred to in the passage, invariably act according to their order of subsistence in the Godhead. The Spirit is here said to be sent along with the Son, and indissolubly conjoined with the Son from the moment of the incarnation. In pre-Christian times the same order prevails by anticipation.

There are several passages in Isaiah which vividly set forth the large measure of the Spirit, which was to be shed upon the Christ from the time of His coming in the flesh. This was prefigured by various anointings introduced into the typical economy. And it appears especially in the name MESSIAH, THE ANOINTED, given to the promised One who should come into the world.

The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord (Isa. xi. 2).

Behold my Servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my Spirit upon Him (Isa. xlii. 1).

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon, me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek,” etc. (Isa. lxi. 1).

I have put these three passages together because they refer to the unction with which the Lord Jesus was to be anointed for His threefold office as Mediator between God and man; and though couched in the words of prophecy, no clearer Language could possibly have been used to delineate the accomplished fact. The gift of the Spirit to replenish Christ’s humanity was not to supersede the necessity of His higher or divine nature, for these supplies of the Spirit flowed from the hypostatic union. The Spirit Himself was to REST upon Him, which implies something far greater than a temporary visit, or a mere creature’s privilege. Then follows a vivid description of the effects of that unction in six definite predicates, or three pairs,—the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of understanding and fear of the Lord; graces of which the Spirit of  God is the sole author, and which are found only in their perfection and ample fulness in the Messiah. The graces of the Spirit there enumerated are six: but the general designation, “the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him,” with which the promise commences, is the common name for the SPIRIT OF PROPHECY, as appears from the seventy elders, who received the spirit that was on Moses, and also from other instances. We may be warranted to number, then, the spirit of prophecy first, and say that the number SEVEN is preserved. Lampe, in commenting on this passage, gives perhaps undue rein to his fancy when he supposes that the first pair was given at the nativity, the second at His baptism, the third at His exaltation; and he thinks that the Spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord must be regarded as poured out upon His Church. He appears to have adopted this ingenious but unnatural view of the last pair, from the groundless idea that the fear of the Lord could not fitly be ascribed to the Lord Christ.

These three passages which we have put together delineate and foretell that unction of the Holy Spirit with which the Messiah was to be equipped for all His offices. The second passage is applied to Christ by Matthew (chap. xii. 18). The third is quoted and applied by Christ Himself (Luke iv. 17). The three passages, by a memorable variety of expression, set forth that the Spirit should rest upon Him, should be put upon Him, should be upon Him as the anointing oil. The human future of Christ was thus to be anointed with the plenary supply of the Holy Spirit for the discharge of the mediatorial function: for it was predicted as the necessary unction of the Servant of the Lord.

(c) Another class of passages in Isaiah refers to the gift of the Spirit to the Church. How far the prophet was able to trace the connection between the gift of the Spirit to the personal Messiah and the gift of the Spirit to the Church, or to follow the order of events by which the one paved the way for the other, we do not presume to decide. But the more we compare the prophetic testimony with the apostolic testimony, we are the more disposed to hold that it was sufficiently known to the Old Testament Church, that the Messiah should not only be anointed with the Spirit, but also BESTOW the Spirit. But that the Spirit was to be plenteously conferred on the Church in Messianic days, is repeatedly and explicitly affirmed by the prophet. Thus the pouring out of water and the pouring out of the Spirit are synonymous: “I will pour water on him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring (Isa. xliv. 3).

Two other passages may here be quoted,—one showing how the Spirit resists the enemy, the other how he abides with the redeemed Church. (1) “When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him” (Isa. lix. 19). (2) “My Spirit that is upon thee, and my words that I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever” (Isa. lix. 21).


To this period belong not a few books which are of a historical and prophetic character,—viz. Ezekiel, Daniel, Haggai, and Zechariah, the Books of Chronicles, and Nehemiah. In these we find many allusions to the Holy Spirit.

There are two prophets, indeed, in this period, where the expression “Spirit of God” does not occur,—viz. Jeremiah and Daniel. JEREMIAH, as a man, is described as sanctified from the womb; and, as a prophet, he received some of the most definite revelations ever communicated, particularly the revelation of the New Covenant, with all its spiritual provisions and blessings (Jer. xxxi. 31). Yet we do not find in him the precise phrase which we have here been making it our object to trace out. The same thing holds true of DANIEL. Though we cannot fail to perceive the Spirit’s agency in all his interpretations of dreams, in all his visions of the future, and in all the allusions found in him to the anointing of Christ the Most Holy (Dan. ix. 24), yet the phrase “Spirit of God” is not found in him.

In the writings of EZEKIEL, the expression, “the Spirit,” “the Spirit of God,” or “my Spirit,” very frequently occurs. Thus the prophet says: “The Spirit entered into me” (ii. 2); “The Spirit entered into me, and set me upon my feet, and spake with me” (ii. 24); “The Spirit lifted me up, and took me away” (ii. 14); “The Spirit brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem” (viii. 3); “Afterwards the Spirit took me up, and brought me in a vision by the Spirit of God into Chaldea, to them of the captivity” (xi. 24). And all the great promises announced by Ezekiel have very express reference to the converting and sanctifying grace of the Spirit promised to Israel in connection with their restoration to the divine favour. Whether all is still future, or whether the promise to put the Spirit within them was fulfilled on their return from Babylon, has long been a point on which conflicting views prevail: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them (Ezek. xxxvi. 25-27). Grotius, Greenhill, and others incline to the opinion which connects the fulfilment of the prophecy with the simple restoration of the remnant who came back from their seventy years’ exile in Babylon; others absolutely connect the prophecy with the future. Perhaps it may best be regarded as a germinant prediction, having a partial or incipient accomplishment, and a full and complete accomplishment. It certainly sets forth the justification or cleansing of their persons, and the Renovation of the Holy Ghost. As a consequence of the cleansing which should be given, and of the Spirit which should be put within the Israelitish Church and nation, it depicts a remarkable change of disposition, character, and manners which should be produced. The promised sprinkling with clean water is the reality of what was typified by the water mingled with the ashes of the heifer, and sprinkled upon persons and things to purify those who were defiled, and to render them clean and holy in the eye of the law (Num. xix. 2). The inward renewing of the people from moral and spiritual defects, indissolubly connected with the former, though distinguished from it, is emphatically ascribed to the irresistible grace of the Spirit of God. The agency used in taking away the insensibility of the stony heart, and making it a heart of flesh, susceptible and tender, is expressly ascribed to the Holy Spirit, called “my Spirit,” within them.

Two other memorable prophecies denote the same thing, though couched in highly figurative language, and given in the .form of vision,—the reanimation of the dry bones in the valley of vision, when the prophet was commanded to prophesy to the Spirit (Ezek. xxxvii. 1); and the rapid outflow of waters, swelling into a river, from under the threshold of the house of God (chap. xlvii. 1), which seems elsewhere to be called the river of the water of life (Rev. xxii. 1).


The prophecy of HAGGAI announced, for the comfort of the Israelitish Church, that though the external glory of the second temple should be inconsiderable as compared with the first temple, they were to entertain no fear, because THE SPIRIT should remain among them, a help in their infirmities, as well as the source of grace, of light, of comfort, and of holiness (Hag. ii. 5).

In the prophet ZECHARIAH we find two explicit allusions to the Spirit’s agency,—one for the time of the prophet, another for the remote future of the chosen people. Amid discouragements which might otherwise have depressed Zerubbabel the ruler, the prophet was commissioned to show—(1) that the maintenance of the Church was not dependent on the resources of worldly kingdoms, but on God’s Spirit: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts (Zech. iv. 6). And this assurance was fortified by the significant and suggestive vision of the candlestick and of the two olive trees. (2) Another promise of the Spirit was in connection with the memorable prophecy of Israel’s repentance, unexampled mourning, and return to the crucified Messiah. The titles given to the Spirit in this passage are full of significance. He is called THE SPIRIT OF GRACE, which implies that He is not only given to us in the exercise of the free love of God, but that He is the cause of all the grace by which we are at once accepted in the Beloved and regenerated at the time of our first conversion, as well as the author of the assurance or certainty that we have found grace in God’s sight. He is also called THE SPIRIT OF SUPPLICATION, because He is the author of all the prayer which individual Believers and the Church pour out before the Father through the merits of the crucified Saviour. The promise in the prophet was to the effect that He should be the Spirit of grace and supplication to the house of David in the latter days, and effect the national conversion of the people amid the deepest expressions of sorrow and mourning (Zech. xii. 10).

We only further notice the allusions to the Holy Spirit in NEHEMIAH and in the Book of CHRONICLES. In Nehemiah it is said, with special reference to the way in which the Jewish nation vexed the Spirit during their day of merciful visitation: “Many years didst Thou forbear them, and testifiedst against them BY THY SPIRIT in the prophets (Neb. ix. 30). The passage means that the Holy Spirit moved the prophets, and spoke by them as organs whom He condescended to employ in the revelation of His mind and will. The allusions to the Holy Spirit in the Book of Chronicles record two historical occasions when the Spirit, coming on the prophets Jahaziel and Zechariah, prompted them to declare the mind of God. The one was a great crisis, when Jahaziel awakened the people’s courage and confidence in God in the immediate prospect of a great battle (2 Chron. xx. 14). The other was an equally great crisis, when the prophet Zechariah, filled with the Spirit, was commissioned to reprove the people for their sins, but fell a victim to their fierce and fiery resentment (2 Chron. xxiv. 20).

All these memorable instances in the history of Israel which we have surveyed, disclose to us the Holy Spirit in the work of imparting the superhuman gift of prophecy to a few, and the comforting power of the Spirit to the many. The Old Testament Church was in many respects different from the New Testament Church; the former being more occupied with externals, the latter being privileged to have a worship which may be described as more in Spirit and in truth. But the divine personality of the Spirit, as we have clearly seen, was not less known and not less recognised in the one economy than in the other. He who spoke by holy men from the beginning was in every age recognised as a DIVINE PERSON.


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