The Deity of the Holy Spirit

George Smeaton



The Epistle of James, directed against a nominal Christianity, or dead faith which had begun to prevail in his time, draws a line between nature and grace through all life. James contrasts spiritual religion with that forgetful hearing which, under the empty form, neither keeps itself unspotted from the world, nor exhibits the honour, the love, the benevolence which the law written on the heart prompts. He described that hollow profession by the licence given to the tongue, and by the vain boast of wisdom on which it plumed itself. Though he only once mentions the Spirit, the entire Epistle takes for granted the necessity of the Spirit’s renewing grace. He bids those who lack wisdom ask it of God by believing prayer (Jas. i. 5). He implies the Spirit’s agency when he says that every good gift and every perfect gift is from above (i. 17). He assumes the Spirit’s work of regeneration by the word of truth as the foundation of all (i. 18). The tenor of the Epistle implies that the Holy Spirit, the author of faith, first enters the Christian heart as His habitation, and then makes it a temple worthy of Himself. In the only passage where he definitely names the Spirit, he emphatically expresses this, viz.: “Do ye think that the Spirit saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?” This confessedly difficult passage is better translated: “Do you think that the Spirit speaketh in vain? Doth the spirit that dwelleth in us lust to envy?”1 If we compare these words with the common style of the apostles, who speak of the Spirit as the great Inhabitant of the Christian heart, no doubt can exist that the allusion is to the Holy Spirit (Rom. viii. 9; 2 Tim. i. 14; 1 John iii. 34), who dwells in believers, and instructs, comforts, and sanctifies them. One of the most comprehensive descriptions of a Christian is that he is a man in whom the Holy Spirit dwells. The pointed inquiry of the Apostle James to the envious and contentious men to whom he addressed himself is: Can the Holy Spirit have His habitation in a heart replete with envy? And the emphatic answer, tacitly implied, is: No. But (that is, on the contrary, de) He giveth more grace. The meaning is: the Holy Spirit makes the man in whom He dwells to cherish no envy at another’s welfare, but rather to wish their blessings augmented; and the same Spirit gives more grace to him who is thus minded, or makes him the recipient of more grace. On that man he confers richer communications of grace. As to the interpretation of the passage, it is not without its difficulties, as the quotation is not found in so many words in Scripture. Some refer it to the antediluvians (Gen. vi. 3), others to the Book of Proverbs (Prov. iii. 34). Not to mention far-fetched interpretations, it seems rather to refer to Moses’ conduct in the matter of Eldad and Medad, when Joshua, from a desire for the honour of Moses, would have forbidden them to prophesy. But Moses said: “Enviest thou for my sake?” (Num. xi. 29).


On the day of Pentecost Peter expounded and applied the prophecy of Joel as to the pouring out of the Spirit in the last days, pointing to the stupendous display of supernatural phenomena and of spiritual gifts, and declaring: “This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel” (Acts ii. 16). On another occasion he represented Jesus as anointed with the Holy Ghost and with power (x. 38). And as to the giving of the Spirit to the Gentiles, irrespective of all national distinctions, he answered expressly that God gave them the Holy Ghost, and put no difference between the Jews and them (xv. 8).

But let us more narrowly examine the Petrine Epistles. When we examine what titles Peter applies to the Spirit, we find the following: “the Spirit of Christ” (1 Pet. i. 11); the Spirit of God, intimating God and the Spirit who proceeds from God (iv. 14); “the Spirit of glory,” resting like the Shechinah on the persecuted Christian (iv. 14). As to the ancient prophets, he says THAT THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST which was in them testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow (i. 11); in a word, announced the cross and crown of the Redeemer. That passage furnished a convincing proof that Christ had a divine pre-existence, and that His Spirit, prior to the incarnation, guided the inspired writers in all their predictions. Attempts have been made, indeed, to explain this away; and modern divines, such as Weiss, who deny Christ’s pre-existence, put this construction on the statement: that the Messiah-Spirit, before He came, was working in the prophets. For such an evacuating comment there exists no ground; it is but a foregone Sabellian conclusion.

Nor are we to explain the expression which is applied to Christ: “Put to death in the flesh, but quickened by THE SPIRIT,” in any other way than as an allusion to the Holy Ghost. It is neither Christ’s human spirit simply, nor the divine nature of our Lord, though both interpretations have found almost equal favour with recent commentators. It appears from the following verse that we must rather think of the Holy Spirit in which, it is said, Christ went and preached to the spirits in prison—that is, by Noah as a preacher of righteousness. And we have only to compare this text with the passage previously expounded (1 Pet. i. 11), to be fully convinced that the reference is to the Spirit of Christ which was in the prophets. That the Redeemer was QUICKENED and raised up by the Holy Spirit is here affirmed by Peter, and is not obscurely intimated by the Apostle Paul (Rom. viii. 11). The same Spirit that formed Christ’s human body and gave it life in His mother’s womb, gave to Him the restored life when He rose from the dead. He who raised up Christ from the dead, indeed, is frequently mentioned as one of the Father’s most memorable titles or designations; and to prove that it was the Spirit who performed this work, we have only to recall the fact that the Holy Ghost is the executive in every divine operation (Rom. iv. 24, vi. 4).

To the Spirit also is ascribed the Christian’s sanctification: Elect, IN (en) sanctification of the Spirit, TO obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Christ” (1 Pet. i. 2). The Holy Spirit, by the gospel, separates Christians, or sets them apart, in a peculiar way, from the common mass of men; and the blessings enjoyed are the fruit of the Spirit’s sanctifying power. As the prophets had the Spirit, so, Peter adds, the apostles, in like manner, preached with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven (i. 12). In the second Epistle it must be noticed that the only allusion to the Spirit is in connection with the inspiration of the prophets, who are said to have spoken as they were moved by the Holy Ghost (2 Pet. i. 21).


The EPISTLE OF JUDE was directed against a body of licentious errorists who had crept into the Church, and were corrupting it by their doctrines and practice. These were evil men, and there was no room to entertain doubts respecting their character. The apostle accordingly appeals, by way of warning, to some terrible instances of judgment recorded in Scripture—to the Israelites who were destroyed in their unbelief after coming out of Egypt (ver. 5); to the angels who kept not their first estate (ver. 6); to Sodom and Gomorrah and the neighbouring cities (ver. 7). Two references are made to the Holy Spirit within the compass of this small Epistle,—the one alluding to the errorists, the other to the Christians whom he exhorts.

1. “These are they who separate themselves, sensual (yucikoi), having not the Spirit” (ver. 19). The adjective rendered sensual here and in the Epistle of James (iii. 15) is elsewhere rendered natural, or the natural man (1 Cor. ii. 14). The expression means simply one in a state of nature, or unregenerate, and without the Spirit. This cannot be doubtful to any one who considers the antithesis in which it is placed by three apostles. Expositors have brought more superfluous learning to the elucidation of the term (yucikoi) than was necessary. What a natural man denotes is easily discerned by the antithesis in which it stands to the spiritual man, who is one that has received the Spirit. The natural man is one who has merely natural reason, not the Spirit,—that is, is the animal man, as Melanchthon expounds it,—one living according to reason, like Zeno or Saul, though not necessarily in gross vices. As to the next phrase: having not the Spirit, it conveys the idea that the natural man has not the Spirit, and is the antithesis to what is said, that the true Christian HAS the Spirit. On the contrary, he who has not the Spirit is not Christ’s (Rom. viii. 9). We must understand the Holy Spirit, and the apostle pronounces it an indisputable truth that natural men, whether addicted to the grosser vices, like those errorists, or practically exempt from them, have not the Spirit—that is, do not possess the Holy Spirit, who, as a divine inhabitant, occupies the heart of all believers, and sanctifies and renews them after the divine image.

2. The second reference to the Spirit in this Epistle, interwoven with other essential elements of the spiritual life, is: “But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, PRAYING IN THE HOLY GHOST, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (vers. 20, 21). This implies a life in the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, a life of prayer resulting from that fellowship. The Christians to whom the apostle wrote are exhorted to build themselves up on their faith, which implies all the objects of faith as a foundation. They are taught that they are not simply to be passive, but to some extent active in the process, and especially taught to pray in the Holy Ghost, who prompts the matter of all true prayer,—opening men’s eyes to discover their poverty, and showing them the value of spiritual things,—exciting true faith,—and imbuing them with right affections. All true prayer is shown to be prayer in the Holy Ghost as well as in the name of Christ (John xiv. 13).


On the subject of the Holy Spirit we find comparatively little in the Epistles of John—less, in fact, than every one expects to find when he comes to the examination of it.

The reason might be that the Gospel of John had set forth in the Lord’s own words the most full and exhaustive delineation of the doctrine of the Spirit, and we are supposed to carry those disclosures of His Gospel with us in the perusal of the Epistle and Apocalypse.

Though the Epistle alludes more to the Spirit’s work than to the personal relations of the Trinity, there are passages which show Him personally distinct from the Father and the Son. As often as the apostle speaks of the Spirit, he speaks of Him as communicated (1 John ii. 20), and as given to us (1 John iii. 24); and he plainly shows that he regards the communication as imparted to us by the Son. As to the names or titles given to Him, He is called the Spirit of God (1 John iv. 2), sent forth from God (ek tou qeou, 1 John iv. 3); the Spirit of truth, because He opens the mind to truth, and teaches it to distinguish truth from error (1 John iv. 6). He is called the unction from the Holy One, who anoints the followers of Christ as He anointed Christ Himself (1 John ii. 20, 27).

It is said, the Spirit is truth (1 John v. 6); the meaning of which, in that connection, seems to be that one may securely rely on the testimony of the Spirit as an infallible witness, because He is the truth itself.

We have specially to inquire in what sense THE SPIRIT is said TO BEAR WITNESS in the much canvassed passage which refers to the THREE WITNESSES on earth (1 John v. 6, 8)2 Without subjecting all the opinions to examination, it may suffice to say that the WATER and BLOOD first named cannot naturally be referred to the two sacraments, or to the blood and water which flowed from the pierced side of our Lord, though both opinions are maintained by eminent expositors. We rather understand by the first witness, Christ’s baptism and the miraculous events connected with it, which clearly attested His Messianic commission. We must understand by THE BLOOD, His departure to the Father, or the termination of His earthly task by the atoning sacrifice, which was accompanied by the most striking miracles (Matt. xxvii. 51). The THIRD WITNESS, that of THE SPIRIT, is none other than the effusion of the Spirit, first given on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit that spoke by the mouth of all the apostles, who preached with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven—the Spirit who accompanied their oral testimony with stupendous miracles, and who moved them in their writings. The apostle’s words were accompanied with signs and wonders and divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost (Heb. ii. 4). But it was not all objective. The Spirit’s testimony was also internal—that is, He made all internally efficacious and available to the elect.

The apostle refers also to Christian assurance when he says: “We know that He abideth in us by the Spirit which He bath given us” (1 John iii. 24 and iv. 13). As Paul calls the Spirit the EARNEST, so John declares that the Holy Spirit given to Christians gives them a knowledge and an assurance of divine love.

I have now briefly to refer to THE APOCALYPSE, the only remaining work of the Apostle John. The salutation with which the book opens contains an allusion to the Spirit, but in a way peculiar to John. Paul’s manner in invocating blessings on the several Churches to whom he writes was to ask “grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ;” and he does not name the Spirit, because the Spirit was implied in the blessings which were communicated. They were imparted by the agency of the Holy Ghost, who applies redemption. John, according to his peculiar manner, invocates grace and peace from the whole Trinity,—from the Father, called “Him who is, and who was, and who is to come;” FROM THE SPIRIT, represented as the seven Spirits which are before the throne; and from Jesus Christ (Rev. i. 4). The seven Spirits in the plural indicate the manifold and various operations of the Holy Ghost in the application of grace, with a reference to the seven gifts mentioned in Isaiah (xi. 2), or with an allusion to the seven Churches. Throughout the Apocalypse tins style of description is repeatedly used to represent the Spirit as resting on Christ for the great ends which were involved in the execution of the Covenant. Thus, in the third chapter, we read: “These things saith He that hath the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars” (Rev. iii. 1). In the fourth chapter the apostle describes a door opened in heaven, while the writer says: “Immediately I was in the Spirit” (iv. 2); and he adds: “There were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God” (iv. 5.) In the fifth chapter, the apostle describes what he beheld in connection with the book written within and without, and sealed with seven seals, which no man in heaven or in earth could open: “I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb, as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are THE SEVEN SPIRITS of God sent forth into all the earth.” The design of these passages was to set forth the communication of the Holy Spirit in the infinite supplies which Christ imparts, as the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord (Isa. xi. 2), and as all resting on Christ.

The apostle says at the beginning: “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” (i. 10). When Christ sends the seven Epistles to the seven Churches, He bids them hear what the Spirit speaketh to the Churches (ii. 7); for it is the personal Holy Ghost that speaks in and by the gospel, arid that speaks in all the word of truth. And the book closes with the call: “THE SPIRIT and the Bride say, Come”—that is, the Church moved by the Spirit says, “Come.”


  1. See an admirable dissertation by WITSIUS, de Spiritu concupiscente (Jas. iv. 5, 6).
  2. All text-critics and exegetes now let go 1 John v. 7 as no longer tenable. It was probably a mere note on the margin inserted in the text by a subsequent transcriber.

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