The Deity of the Holy Spirit

George Smeaton



The apostolic testimony to the Holy Spirit was given according to a fivefold type—that of Paul, of Peter, of James, of Jude, and of John. The allusions in the Epistles, and especially in the whole compass of Paul’s teaching, are so numerous that they must rather be put together than expounded at length.

One preliminary remark may be made. The apostles take for granted, with full consent, the general corruption of man’s nature, and refer to the Spirit as the originator and source of all the saving, sanctifying, and comforting influences which Christians experience (Eph. iii. 16; Rom. xv. 13). How the renewing of the Holy Ghost is harmonized with the freedom of the will, they stopped not to inquire, as if these points were no part of their concern. But the fact of men’s responsibility along with the proclamation of converting grace and the renewing of the Spirit, is set forth with a solemnity and urgency to which the solution of these questions, if it were possible to solve them, could add no further weight.


In none of the apostles do we find so many allusions as in the Epistles of Paul to the Spirit’s work in the full extent of His saving and sanctifying operations. Besides other reasons which might be mentioned, this may be ascribed to the fact that Paul had not known Christ after the flesh (2 Cor. v. 16), and received his revelations more in the way of inward communication by the Spirit than by outward intercourse with his Lord, though he also received the latter. And accordingly, in the memorable passage where he says: “Now the Lord is that Spirit” (2 Cor. iii. 17), the close connection in which he places Christ and the Spirit shows how fully he apprehended their joint mission, and how emphatically he intimates that Christ is never to be conceived of apart from the Spirit, nor the Spirit conceived of apart from Him.

To the impartial inquirer who only seeks the truth, the Apostle Paul conveys, with sufficient evidence, a testimony to the divine dignity of the Spirit, when we find him saying in the Book of Acts, that the Holy Ghost spoke by the prophet Isaiah (Acts xxviii. 25); that the Spirit testified from city to city, that bonds and imprisonment awaited him (xx. 23); when he declares that the Holy Ghost sustained him in his ministry (Rom. xv. 19); when he appeals to the Holy Ghost, and calls Him to witness (Rom. ix. 1); when he uses the same expression, SENT FORTH (exapesteilen), to describe the mission of the Spirit that he employed to describe the mission of the Son (Gal. iv. 4-6). But we shall find, as we proceed, other proofs even more express.

When we survey the names or titles of the Spirit in Paul’s Epistles, they are numerous. Thus He is called the Spirit of God (Rom. viii. 9), the Spirit of His Son (Gal. iv. 6), the Spirit of Christ (Rom. viii. 9), the Spirit of Him that raised up Christ from the dead (Rom. viii. 11). If we look at the economy in virtue of which the Spirit is sent, He is said to be shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour (Tit. iii. 6). If we survey His titles as derived from the benefits and blessings which He confers, and of which He is the immediate author, He is called the Spirit that dwelleth in us (Rom. viii. 11), the Spirit of grace (Heb. x. 29), the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus (Eph. i. 17), the Spirit of adoption (Rom. viii. 15), the Spirit of life (Rom. viii. 2), the Spirit of meekness (Gal. vi. 1), the Spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (2 Tim. i. 7).

The commencement of the Christian life, as contrasted with the previous sinful life, is uniformly ascribed by the apostle to the Holy Ghost. Thus he says: “No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost” (1 Cor. xii. 3); and again: “He saved us by the washing [laver] of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Tit. iii. 5). Whether we refer this expression: the laver of regeneration, to baptism or not, certainly the last term, the renewing of the Holy Ghost, must be construed as referring to the active operation of the Spirit at the commencement of the Christian life. As it is the shedding or pouring out of the Spirit (execeen) to which salvation is traced, this cannot be referred to mere doctrine. The personal Spirit is mentioned as the producing cause. If it is asked in what sense can men be said to be saved by the renewing of the Holy Ghost, when the salvation is in Christ, the answer is obvious. There is a series of truths of which no link can be awanting. We are saved by the divine purpose, for God hath chosen us to salvation; we are saved by the atonement as the meritorious ground of all; we are saved by faith as the bond of union to Christ; we are saved by grace as contrasted with works done; we are saved by the truth as conveying God’s testimony; and we are saved, as it is here expressed, by the renewing of the Holy Ghost, as producing faith in the heart. The special work of the Spirit in conversion is thus proved to be as essentially necessary and indispensable as any other link in the chain. The apostle further speaks of saving blessings which eye hath not seen nor ear heard, revealed to us by the Spirit (1 Cor. ii. 10); and he adds that we receive not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God, that we may know the things that are freely given to us of God (1 Cor ii. 12). When the Spirit is called “the Spirit of faith,” that is, the AUTHOR or producing cause of faith (2 Cor. iv. 13), according to the uniform meaning of that formula, there can be no more conclusive proof that the commencement of the new life must be ascribed to the Holy Spirit.

There are three Pauline Epistles which are very full and definite in the elucidation of the doctrine of the Spirit,—viz. the Epistles to the Corinthians, to the Galatians, and to the Romans. I shall first refer to their testimony, but by no means in a minute or exhaustive way, in the above-mentioned order.

One principal topic found in the EPISTLES TO CORINTH has reference to the personality and work of the Holy Ghost. It was particularly necessary to call the attention of the Corinthian Christians to the personality and presence, the influence and operations, of the Spirit, because they were counteracting his work by attaching undue importance to human wisdom, and pluming themselves on the possession of various supernatural gifts which they owed absolutely to the Spirit, but which were given for a different purpose than display. They dishonoured the Spirit, partly by self-complacency, emulation, and contentious partisanship; partly by their readiness to think lightly of the old licentious tendencies and feelings for which Corinth had only been too notorious, and which all too plainly threatened to return.

By the Holy Spirit the apostle did not mean, as some have thought, a mere title of God or of Christ. He meant and taught the personal Holy Ghost, distinct from the Father and the Son, but partaker of the same numerical divine nature. He referred to the Spirit sent forth on His mission as the guide and teacher of the Christian Church, whose fellowship as a divine person was invoked in the apostolic benediction (2 Cor. xiii. 14) as the great gift of the Christian Church. He reminded the Corinthians, who were so favoured with a supply of supernatural endowments as to come behind in no gift, that they were the temple of God and inhabited by the Spirit (1 Cor. iii. 16), and then subjoins a warning against defiling it (ver. 17).

In the most conclusive way, but without formal proof, the apostle introduces the PERSONALITY AND OMNISCIENCE of the Holy Ghost when He says: “The Spirit searches all things, yea, the deep things of God” (1 Cor. ii. 10). He is thus referred to as personally distinct from God; for He searches the deep things of God. And He who can fathom the plans, the purposes, and deep things of God, must be distinct in person, yet divine in essence. The same divine personality is brought out in connection with the rich profusion of extraordinary gifts with which the Christian Church was endowed (1 Cor. xii. 4-6): “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit: and there are differences of administrations (or ministries), but the same Lord: and there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God who worketh all in all.” The Spirit, the producer of the gifts, is thus distinguished from the gifts. But He is also distinct from God, the author of the operations, and from the Lord Jesus, the author of the ministries. The import is to the same effect as that which the apostle elsewhere expresses, when he speaks of one God the Father, and one Lord Jesus Christ, and one Spirit who unites Christians in the closest bond of union (1 Cor. viii. 6; Eph. iv. 4-6). A personal will is ascribed to Him; for He divides His gifts to every one severally as He will (ver. 11). To the subject of spiritual or miraculous gifts, which occupies a most important place in these Epistles, I need not refer, after the elucidation already given, except to say that they illustrate the peculiar economy of the Holy Spirit.

Other passages not less clearly teach the special action of the Spirit in the whole application of redemption. To some of these we shall now allude.

(a) “Such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. vi. 11). The three verbs: WASHED, SANCTIFIED, and JUSTIFIED, have such an affinity to each other that they must all be put in one category, as referring to the absolution, sacrificial acceptance, and judicial justification of the Corinthians, compared with their former state as one of guilt, exclusion from God’s presence, and just condemnation. One and the same thing, says Calvin, is expressed by different terms. How far these Christians corresponded individually to their high calling we forbear to inquire. But what we desire to place prominently before our mind is that these saving blessings are referred, first, to the name or merits of Christ as the procuring cause, and then to the Spirit of our God, who made the Corinthians partakers of them by His own effectual application. Plainly this operation of the Spirit is distinguished from the preaching of the gospel. The latter may be, and probably is, included in the phrase: “the name of the Lord Jesus,” which certainly intimates His merits, and may take in the further thought of the preaching of His merits. But manifestly something more than moral suasion is intimated as to the application of redemption. A power immeasurably greater—that is, the Spirit of our God—is referred to as enlightening their mind and leading them to embrace the great salvation, and to be assured that they were washed, sanctified, and justified.

(b) “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. ii. 14). Here the apostle, after noticing the unsearchable glory of revelation, and tracing it up to the Spirit of God, sets forth, in the subsequent part of the chapter, that the spiritual discernment and saving reception of it are not less from the Spirit of God than the revelation itself. As to the title NATURAL MAN, it is not difficult to apprehend its meaning, if we are content to interpret Scripture by Scripture, without being encumbered by the language of philosophy. They who are so called are simply those having the animal and rational elements of man without the Spirit (Jude 19). The point of the expression, whether we suppose extreme depravity or not (Jas. iii. 15), is the privation or absence of the Spirit; and where this is, men do not receive the things of the Spirit,—that is, the atonement and all the saving provisions of the gospel,—and they cannot know them. I shall not efface the angles of this expression to make it less emphatic, nor apologize for the expression being used; for I am only an interpreter; and with that my duty ends. The natural man is he who is not occupied by the supernatural power of the Spirit. The phrase: “to receive the things” of the Spirit of God, as applied to the word of truth, is a common New Testament expression,—meaning that through grace the word is not only viewed as true, but assented to as good (Acts xvii. 11; 2 Cor. xi. 4; 1 Thess. i. 6). That word the natural man does not receive. But when it is added: “neither can he know them,” expositors and divines in general, of the modern type, transmute the words into will not know them. Heumann and others adduce as corroborative proof for this sense: “He could there do no mighty work because of their unbelief” (Mark vi. 5, 6). But it is a mistaken interpretation. The unbelief of Christ’s townsmen at Nazareth was such that they neither brought their diseased and helpless friends to receive His miracles, nor came themselves to hear His wisdom; thus limiting or curtailing His opportunity of conferring benefits. Or if we refer the words to the moral obstruction interposed by the unbelief itself, and suppose that Jesus, from a regard to the declarative glory of God, would not proceed to work miracles which were only to be met with scorn and rejection, there is as little warrant for transmuting the apostle’s cannot know into will not know.

Why the natural man neither receives nor knows the things of the Spirit of God is next subjoined. The way of salvation by the cross, described as “the things of the Spirit of God,” appears to him absurd; for they are foolishness to him. Though the propositions, as such, in which the doctrines are expressed can be sufficiently apprehended by the natural understanding, he receives them not, neither can he know them, without a supernatural discernment, taste, or relish for them imparted by the Spirit of God. The apostle makes no concealment of the malady, and draws a broad distinction between one who has the Spirit and one who has not the Spirit.

(c) This leads me to notice some of those significant expressions scattered over the Epistles where the Spirit receives express titles from the work which He performs in the application of redemption, especially this title: the Spirit of faith.

“We having the same Spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak” (2 (Cor. iv. 13). The title SPIRIT OF FAITH intimates that the Holy Ghost is the author of faith; for all men have not faith; that is, it is not given to all, and does not belong to all (2 Thess. iii. 2). The designation means that the producing cause of faith is the Holy Spirit, who produces this effect by that invincible call and invitation which accompanies, according to the good pleasure of His will, the external proclamation of the gospel. The faith, therefore, of which He is the author, is not effected by the hearer’s own strength or by the hearer’s own effectual will (John vi. 44, 45; Eph. ii. 8; Phil. i. 29). But it is also a fruit of Christ’s merits; for, apart from the merits of the Saviour, no benefit can be conferred or can actually take effect upon condemned men (Eph. i. 3). And though the mode in which the Spirit produces faith cannot, in all its outlines, be fully comprehended by believers in this life, of one thing there can be no doubt: He takes out of the heart every hindrance and obstruction, pleasantly persuades the judgment, and gently binds the will—nay, works in us both to will and to do; or, to put it into the words of Jesus, “Every one, therefore, that hath HEARD AND LEARNED of the Father cometh unto me” (John vi. 45). The word of truth and the regenerating work of the Spirit are fully distinct, but always concurrent. The special operation of the Spirit inclines the sinner, previously disinclined, to receive the invitations of the gospel; for it is He alone, acting as the Spirit of faith, that removes the enmity of the carnal mind to those doctrines of the cross which, but for this, would seem to him unnecessary, or foolish and offensive.

The apostle, in a profound passage in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, delineates the difference between the Jewish and Christian economy as two different modes of administering one and the same covenant of grace. He contrasts the two in the great points of antithesis between them. But what we have to consider here is their relation to the gift of the Holy Spirit. One important topic bearing on the difference of the two economies, is the supply of the Spirit in the New Testament as contrasted with the Old. This is fully elucidated by the apostle (2 Cor. iii. 6-18). The New Covenant contrasted with that of Sinai is called THE MINISTRATION OF THE SPIRIT (2 Cor. iii. 8), because it was a formally different economy. The New Covenant is called THE SPIRIT, not the letter, because accompanied with the mission of the Comforter and with the powerful operations of the Spirit in a measure and manner unknown before. Among its distinctive privileges, the supplies of the Holy Spirit, which were of old promised by the prophets, are conferred in a wholly new way, and with a copiousness not conferred before.

The antithesis between the Old and New Covenant is expressed in the striking proposition, which is not without its difficulty: “the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life” (ver. 6). This may be taken as a general proposition; and when so taken, it will be akin to the words: “It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing” (John vi. 63). If, on the other hand, it refers to the difference of the economies, which seems clearly to be the design of the apostle, the meaning must be, that the former, as a legal and national covenant, largely left men without the quickening Spirit; or that the Spirit of life was not dispensed by that economy. When it is said, with special reference to the New Covenant: “the Spirit giveth life,” the import is that the Spirit of life is now communicated in full and abundant measure; that is, that Christ’s words are spirit and life (John vi. 63), as compared with that shadowy dispensation which has passed away.

A brief explanation will serve to remove the difficulty which expositors have found in the passage. Some have thought that the Sinaitic Covenant was simply a covenant of works, wholly different in character from the covenant of grace. That supposition cannot be accepted, for the law is not against the promise of God (Gal. iii. 17). The apostle very often speaks of a matter in a certain respect; that is, not absolutely, but in a certain respect (secundum quid), and the statement here made must be so understood. The Sinaitic Covenant, so far as founded on the law of rites and apart from the covenant of grace, which involved the promise of the Holy Spirit, was A KILLING LETTER, not only diverse from the New Covenant, but leaving men in a state of bondage and death, and imparting no relief.

A twofold view may be taken of the Sinaitic Covenant. It may be taken more largely or more strictly,—a distinction to be applied as a key to solve many difficulties in the Pauline Epistles. Taken more largely, the Sinaitic Covenant, or the Old Testament type of religion, contains the patriarchal gospel, or the Abrahamic Covenant, based upon Abraham’s seed, in whom all the families of the earth were to be blessed, and thus as comprehending the promise. Taken more strictly, the Sinai Covenant—a subsequent dispensation of which the patriarchs knew nothing—was a national transaction between God and Israel, and conditional in its character. The immutable moral law, which existed before its promulgation and exists since its abrogation, was its core. The nation was specially bound to the law of a carnal commandment, to a shadowy priesthood, to innumerable rites and ceremonies, which were but the letter, without any supply of the Spirit, and which were enforced with strictness and severity. The whole design looked to the end of the shadow in the atoning work of Messiah. Strictly taken, the Sinai Covenant is letter and shadow,—national, transitory, conditional, and burdensome in the whole character of its arrangements. Such was the distinction between the two. But it is necessary to add that it presupposes the Abrahamic Covenant, because God could make no covenant with sinful man but in a relation of grace. He could not have made a covenant at Sinai unless with a certain respect to grace, and having the covenant of grace as its basis and support.

When it is called “a killing letter,” and contrasted with the Spirit which giveth life, the meaning is, that the Sinai Covenant, strictly taken, or used as the mere letter, did not give the Spirit of life. But the apostle’s words do not imply that there was no Holy Ghost operating on the saints of the Old Economy, or that there were not millions of saved men under it trained to eminent holiness and wisdom. There were countless numbers of regenerate men in the Old Economy distinguished for a faith and wisdom, a holiness and self-denial, a courage and zeal, redounding to the declarative glory of God, such as far surpasses all modem examples. But it must be noted that none of them received the regenerating grace and the Spirit of life which they possessed from the Mosaic law, or from the letter sundered from the promise. All who had the Spirit of life received it by faith upon the promise of a Saviour, and not from the Sinai Covenant. For under all economies, salvation and the supply of the Spirit were by faith. The measure of the Spirit, under the Old Testament, was comparatively limited, like the first-fruits; and it was given by anticipation. In comparison with the numbers composing the Old Testament Church, only a few were made partakers of the gift of the Spirit, while the vast multitude had no eye to see nor ear to understand. On these grounds the apostle calls the one economy the letter, and the other the Spirit.

In the Second Epistle to the CORINTHIANS, the apostle gives expression to Christian experience in many particulars. The Spirit is adduced as a pledge of salvation, and as giving an assurance of the participation of God’s love.

“Now He who establisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts” (2 Cor. i. 21). That the efficacy of the Spirit is something distinct from the preaching of the gospel, is clearly indicated in this and in similar passages. The theory which identifies them finds no countenance from these words; for there is an influence of the Spirit on the heart of Christians, apart from the mere moral influence of the word. The apostle, as the founder of the Corinthian Church, speaks of being united with them in Christ, and of their being anointed as a royal priesthood to make a common confession of Christianity. The previous allusion to Christ as the Anointed One, seems to have led him to describe THEM AS ANOINTED, which implies something more than mere instruction through the word: It is unction for priestly service. He adds, “who hath also sealed us,” implying that they bore A SEAL or impress from God, by which they not only were themselves assured, but marked as belonging to God, who put a seal on them as His property. Not only so: God gave them the earnest of the Spirit in their hearts. The term EARNEST (arrabwn), three times applied in the New Testament to the Holy Spirit, denotes a certain sum in hand, as a pledge of something further to be conferred; and it was a security that they should not be put to shame. Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit as. producing these effects on the heart. For we cannot expound the term EARNEST merely of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, which accompanied the first proclamation of the gospel as a proof of its divine origin.

“Ye are declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God” (2 Cor. iii. 3). The Church of Corinth, a large flourishing community, was an emphatic proof of Paul’s apostleship, and of the success with which his zealous efforts had been crowned in spreading the gospel. They were an epistle, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God,—where we cannot fail to notice two persons,—the living God and His Spirit, by whom he acted at first, and continued to act, on the heart of these Corinthians. By the Spirit we cannot there understand revelation, or the divine origin of Christianity; for comments of that nature only betray an adverse bias, and are not worthy of serious refutation. Plainly, the apostle distinguishes his ministry from the writing of the Spirit He refers to the efficacious effect of his ministry, and ascribes it to the Holy Spirit. Nor does he appeal to miraculous gifts, but to the Spirit’s influence in effecting the spiritual renovation of the heart, as contrasted with the Old Covenant, which was written on tables of stone.

He that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who hath also given us the earnest of the Spirit” (2 Cor. v. 5). The Spirit is here again called “the earnest;” and the longing for the heavenly glory is connected with His operation.

In the Epistle to the GALATIANS, the apostle’s doctrine on the entire economy of the Spirit is peculiarly full. This was due to circumstances which made it necessary.

The gospel, as preached by Paul among the Galatians, had found a ready acceptance, and had been accompanied with the miraculous ministration of the Spirit, and with the most arresting displays of His power (Gal. iii. 5). The Galatians, it is said, had begun in the Spirit (iii. 3). Before much time elapsed, the recently-formed churches were subjected to the test of false teachers. Emissaries from the Pharisaic party demanded that Christians from the ranks of the Gentiles should observe the Jewish rites as necessary to justification before God. In a word, these ceremonies, along with the doctrine of Christ, were to be retained as essentially necessary. The apostle, in writing this Epistle, assails that fundamental error with all his energy, refuting it from central truth and from their own experience in the past.

He shows that they had not received the Spirit by the works of the law, but by the message or preaching (akohv) of faith.. (iii. 3). This is the Holy Spirit, with all His gifts, as promised by the prophets to the Church. The ordinary saving gifts of regeneration and holiness, as well as the supernatural gifts, are here included. These were not received by the performance of any actions of the ceremonial or moral law, which could only have filled their mind with a knowledge of sin and a fear of wrath. On the contrary, they had received the Spirit by the message of salvation or grace received by faith.

We are next taught that the promised Spirit was procured by nothing less than the vicarious death of Christ. This argument completely exploded the legalism of the false teachers. The donation of the Spirit is thus connected with the atonement: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us, that (ina) the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (iii. 14). The meaning of these words is: the death of Christ was the meritorious cause or purchase of this great gift—the promised Spirit. The final particle (ina) leans on the words which describe the sacrifice of Christ. It is the connection of merit and reward, of cause and consequence.

To show, moreover, that works of law are wholly excluded, and that the great donation of the Holy Spirit, which was given to the Galatians at the founding of the Church among them, was not to be traced to doing on the part of man, but to simple reliance on the merits of Christ, the apostle adds, “That we might receive the promise of the Spirit (or the promised Spirit) through faith.” The Spirit of the Son— in other words, the Spirit of adoption—is further described by Paul as given only to those who are sons by faith, and partakers of the atonement (iv. 6). The proof is thus complete, that the Holy Spirit was not received by the works of the law.

The last part of the Epistle displays the work of the Spirit in another light The former allusions were made more to the Christian’s privileges. The two closing chapters set forth the graces of the Holy Spirit and the Christian’s fruitfulness. The same apostle who was solicitous in the first part of this Epistle to assert the liberty of the Christian, and who bids us stand fast in it, is not less solicitous to set forth in the second part the Spirit’s renewing and sanctifying influence. Thus, with respect to Christian HOPE or patience, he puts it in causal connection with the Spirit’s operation in these terms: we through the Spirit wait for the HOPE of righteousness by faith (v. 5). The distinction between flesh and spirit, nature and grace, is next described in such a way as proves the momentous importance of drawing a strict line between the two, of apprehending it in the Christian’s consciousness, and following it out in the Christian’s walk: “I say then, walk in (by) the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (v. 16, 17). He adduces it as a proof of their liberty from the curse of the law, that the Christian is led by the Spirit (v. 18). Then, after enumerating the works of the flesh, he specifies as the fruit of the Spirit—“love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance” (v. 22). He calls these the fruit of the Spirit, as if they grew on a living, fruitful tree; and he adds that against such persons—for the allusion is to persons (kata ton toioutwn)—there is no law (v. 23). From living by the Spirit he argues the duty of walking by the Spirit (v. 25), and he concludes these duties by referring to the duty of sowing to the Spirit (vi. 8).


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