God the Holy Spirit and Modern Thought

“It has become almost a convention that those who undertake to write about the Holy Spirit should begin by deploring the neglect of this doctrine in the thought and life of the Church today.”  This assertion from the opening page of one of the most recent treatments on the subject can also be applied to us as Protestant Reformed.  Although we confessionally ascribe to the third person of the Holy Trinity His proper place, we so easily fail to be mindful of Him as our God.  In the words of Rev. H. Hoeksema, “We are, perhaps, easily inclined to ascribe to the Holy Spirit a subordinate position.  That the Father is God is never a question with us.  He is the almighty Creator of all things in heaven and earth.  That the Son is co-equal with the Father we also have little difficulty to believe and maintain.  He is our mighty Redeemer that overcame sin and death for us.  But does not the Holy Spirit seem to occupy a position of inferiority, in subordination to the Father and the Son?  Does not the Bible speak of Him as a means, or an instrument by whom God works all things?  And is not an instrument inferior to him that employs it?  It is not superfluous therefore, to remind ourselves that the third Person of the Holy Trinity is very God, not subordinate to, but co-equal with the Father and the Son.”1

To the end, therefore, that the Holy Spirit may be given the consideration He is worthy of, and to help promote expressive thinking about Him, I humbly submit a few thoughts for your consideration.

First, then, it is well that we briefly set forth what we confess to be the truth concerning the Holy Ghost and thereby also form a basis for dealing with modern development of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.  Our confessions are clear and concise and although sometimes brief, they contain all the essential elements of the truth concerning the Holy Spirit.  In Lord’s Day 22 in answer to the question, “What dost thou believe concerning the Holy Ghost?” our Catechism states, “First, that He is true and co-eternal God with the Father and the Son; secondly, that He is also given me to make me by a true faith, partaker of Christ and all His benefits, that He may comfort me and abide with me forever.”  In our Confession of Faith, the foregoing truth is set forth in Article 11, that Article expressing “that the Holy Ghost is true and eternal God.”  We thereby – “believe and confess also, that the Holy Ghost, from eternity, proceeds from the Father and Son; and therefore is neither made, created nor begotten, but only proceedeth from both; Who in order is the third person of the Holy Trinity; of one and the same essence, majesty and glory with the Father and the Son; and therefore is the true and eternal God, as the Holy Scriptures teach us.”

Our confessions are based on Scripture and thus, that the Holy Spirit is co-eternal God with the Father and the Son also has Scriptural proof.  In Scripture He is called God, for the Apostle Peter says to Ananias, “Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost? – thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.”  This passage certainly implies that the Holy Ghost is God.  Isaiah 40:13, 14 credits the Holy Spirit with being the author of God’s eternal council; I Cor. 2:11 tells us that the Spirit searches the depths of God and knows the mind of God for there we read, “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him?  even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.”

Genesis 1:2; Psalm 3:6 and Psalm 140:30 all credit the Holy Spirit with the work of creation, as well as ascribing it to the Father and the Son.

He, too, is the author of our salvation as the Word of God teaches us in many places.  See for example I Cor. 12:3-10.

The Spirit possesses virtues that are distinctly divine.  He is omnipresent, omniscient (having universal knowledge), eternal, receiving divine honor.  He is the source and author of blessing.  See II Cor. 13:13. Certainly the Holy Spirit is God; is our God with the Father and the Son.

Secondly, to develop a knowledge of the work of the Holy Spirit as pertaining to His people we should consider how He was revealed in time.  This revelation is given us in the Scriptures, the Old Testament giving evidence of His manifestation to the people of God in types and shadows in the Old Dispensation, while the New Testament sheds forth the light of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ in the New Dispensation.

The old dispensation was filled with types and shadows and the saints of the old dispensation knew of or about the Holy Spirit only to the extent that the Word of God gave them word pictures of the Holy Spirit and the Hope that was to come at Pentecost; the gift of the Spirit to the church.

The expressions that are used in the Old Testament to describe the Spirit are indicative of the dim comprehension of the reality of things to come.  The power of the Holy Spirit is signified by terms such as “breath” and “wind”.  The phrase “the word of God”, occurring no less than 394 times in the Old Testament according to Brown, Driver and Briggs, is used to express three different forms of divine activity; namely, creation, providence and revelation.  As an instance we quote Psalm 33:6, “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made:  and all the hosts of them by the Spirit of His mouth.”  For the Old Testament saint this was hardly adequate for a clear comprehension of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit as we understand it this side of Pentecost.

The Old Testament made preparation for the New Testament revelation of the Spirit as in the well-known prophesy of Joel 2:28, but again, this foreshadowing of the coming of the Holy Spirit was bound to be largely only a glimpse of a future event; an expectation.

This does not mean, as Rev. H. Hoeksema states, “that saints of the old dispensation were not saved even as we.  For, although Christ was not yet, the Son of God had been ordained the Mediator of His people in God’s eternal council, and even before His incarnation operated and became revealed as such in the promise and through the shadows.  And although the Spirit of Christ was not yet, the Holy Ghost had been eternally ordained to be the Spirit of redemption, and as such He operated in the prophets, and led the people through the shadows to the hope of reality that was to come.  But the saints of the Old Testament, even with respect to the spiritual blessings of salvation which now are fully ours, were saved by hope.  Even as we in the new dispensation still look forward to the final realization of the promise, and can but dimly apprehend the glory of the heavenly kingdom that is to come in the day of Christ, so the saints of the old dispensation were, indeed saved, yet the reality of atonement and redemption, of justification and life, the fullness of the revelation of Jesus Christ and of the blessings of salvation in Him had not been realized.  They could only dimly apprehend them through the shadows and by the promise of Him that was to come.”

Such was the revelation of the Holy Spirit in the Old Dispensation.

The New Dispensation, with the coming of Christ and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, brought about a decisive change in the comprehension of the Holy Spirit by the people of God.  Their concept of Him in hope changed to an experiential knowledge of Him as He was given them through Christ to dwell in them and make them partakers of all the benefits of salvation.  The very expressions used to denote the Spirit by New Testament writers from the first verse of Matthew 1 have a definite accent that reveals a familiarity with the Holy Spirit.  In the Old Testament, the phrase ‘the Spirit of the Lord’ or ‘the Spirit of God’ is very common.  The expression ‘holy spirit’ (holy ruach) occurs only three times and even then with ‘Thy’ or ‘His’.  In the New Testament, the expression ‘Holy Spirit’ (pneuma hagion), sometimes with the definite article and sometimes without it, occurs 88 times.  Again, whereas in the Old Testament the phrase ‘the spirit’ (the ruach) is never used except to denote the ‘wind’ or the ‘breath’, in the New Testament the expression ‘the Spirit’ occurs in at least 46 passages, without counting the many instances in which ‘spirit’, without the article, stands for the working of the Spirit of God upon the spirit of man – e.g. in such phrases as ‘the spirit of adoption’, or ‘the spirit of meekness’ or ‘the spirit of revelation.’  These figures reveal a new concept in the understanding of the Holy Spirit.  The New Testament speaks regularly of ‘the Holy Spirit’, which phrase is to be carefully distinguished from the Old Testament phrase, ‘The Holy Spirit’.  In like manner, the common New Testament use of the phrase ‘the Spirit’ indicates that He is so familiar and central in Christian experience that it is sufficient thus to describe Him.  He is “The Spirit” par excellence.  Every Christian will know who is meant.  And that, of course, is because the Holy Ghost has become the Spirit of Christ who dwells in us, the Church.

A distinction must be made between the Holy Ghost as the third person of the Holy Trinity and that same Spirit as He is become the Spirit of Christ.  Even as the only begotten Son and Jesus Christ are the same person, so the Holy Ghost and the Spirit of Christ are the same person.  Also, as Christ was ordained before the foundation of the world to be our Mediator and the governing head of the elect church and the new creation, so the Holy Ghost, in God’s eternal good pleasure is promised to Christ, ordained to be the Spirit of Sanctification, that He might dwell in the church and make us partakers of all the benefits of salvation.  This is taught in Scripture passages such as John 7:39; John 14:15-17; John 16:7ff and others.

That is the manifestation of the Holy Spirit to us in the New Dispensation.  On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit of the exalted Christ, was poured out into the church and through that Spirit Christ Himself returned to the Church and translated it from the old to the new.  God the Holy Spirit is now our Sanctifier by His dwelling in our hearts.

A truly Scriptural conception of the Holy Spirit, the awareness of Him as God by the Old Testament saints and the experience of His presence as the Spirit of Christ in the New Testament church, is essential for the maintenance of every other truth of Holy Writ.  To ascribe to the Holy Spirit functions which minimize His power, which reduce the effectiveness of His sanctifying Grace to His people who alone are comforted thereby, and which credits the Holy Spirit with an assist in all sort of hocus-pocus is to break down the unified concept of the Scriptures to mere philosophy.  But such is the attempt of modern theologians.

We confess that the Word of God was not sent nor delivered by the will of man, but that holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, as the Apostle Peter saith.  We also believe that with Divine care they were preserved by the Holy Spirit through the ages infallible and pure, untainted by human reasoning.  This idea of the infallibility of the Scriptures is denied by modernists who insist that the testimony of the Spirit in the heart of a man has precedence over the ‘fallible’ guidance of the church in determining the authority of Scripture.  No one knows, they say, who is divinely inspired as none can discern another’s inner thoughts.  The refusal of Reformed theologians to accept the historical testimony of the church’s faith as the counterpart of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit prompted an appeal made to the quality of Scripture itself.  This appeal, professor Hendry says, “reflects a conception of the Spirit that belongs to the mantic cults of ancient Greece rather than to the faith of the New Testament.”  We know, that without the Spirit the Scriptures are dead, but the Spirit who is God does not teach a different doctrine to different men at different times with the same Word.  The Bible as the revealed Word of God was preserved pure in spite of sinful men, not made fallible because of sinful men.  Let us trust the Spirit to maintain the infallibility of the Word of God.

We also find among modernists a tendency to give a twofold meaning to the phrase ‘fellowship of the Holy Spirit’.  The distinction is made between natural and supernatural operations of the Spirit, the supernatural being that which a Christian experiences in his embracing of the Christian faith while the natural embodies the subconscious activities of all mankind.  Such spirit activity also accounts for extra-sensory perception and/or mental telepathy.  An example in Scripture of this natural operation of the Holy Spirit in the employment of extra sensory perception is the ability of Balaam as well as Samuel to prophesy, which natural endowment was peculiar to certain individuals.  The supernatural activity of the Holy Spirit is identified with love; the love of the Holy Spirit for all men, the Spirit having gained recognition of that love, causes the Christian to respond to the love of the Spirit as the Spirit of Christ.

Such distortions of the work of the Holy Spirit are the vain imaginations of a foolish heart.  It is evident that those who advocate such ideas make a common denominator of the Holy Spirit and thereby make the saving Grace of God just as common.  Certainly, under such a system the individual talents and an inherent love or ‘goodness’ of all men is meant to rise above death and decay.  Shades of ‘Common Grace’ to say the least.

Such a psychological interpretation also deals with mental healing.  Anglican Canon, Lindsay Dewar, a Fellow of Kings College, believes that it is the love of the Holy Spirit which heals the mental patient.

Our final reference to modern thought concerning the Holy Spirit deals with the idea that the Holy Spirit is the potential leader of mankind to unite them into one mind and still preserve their individuality without dictatorial pressure over their will.  The love of the Spirit of Christ will affect this, it is believed, as the ultimate victory of the supernatural over the natural operations of the Spirit.  For, they say, the universal or catholic community provides the only completely satisfactory environment for the growth and development of human nature.  The Christian fellowship provides the solution to all practical problems.  The self-asserting and self-denying tendencies in men find their harmony in those who by a personal devotion to Christ are united to one another, for they live to a center outside themselves which draws them all together as if by a magnet.  The result is freedom of expression, united in the two balanced tendencies.  This, Dewar says, is what Saint Paul claims for the members of the church when he says, – “We have the mind of Christ” (I Cor. 2:16), a mind made known to us by the Holy Spirit.2

That is the heart of the church world today.  Let us beware that we fall not into such dishonor.  Let us have the mind of the Spirit, that is, the Spirit of Christ, for all other spirits are not of God.  We thank the Holy Spirit for His revelation to us of His work which glorifies Him as God, co-equal with the Father and the Son, to Whom be praise and glory forever.



  1. The Triple Knowledge, Vol. 4
  2. Lindsay Dewar The Holy Spirit and Modern Thought


*This article has had some circulation already, first, as a paper given to the Hope Protestant Reformed Men’s Society, then, as the paper at a combined meeting of Hope and Southeast Men’s Societies.  Rev. H. Hanko, sometime ago, suggested that it be published in Beacon Lights.

We share in the conviction that there is within our churches, a lack of opportunity for non-clerical members to express themselves in print.  Such a consideration prompted, in part, the establishment of the annual Beacon Lights Literary Contest.  Since it seems that older members of our churches refuse to take the Contest seriously, or else sustain a mistaken sense of modesty regarding their talents, Beacon Lights encourages ministers or other society leaders to recommend for publication whatever articles or papers come to their attention as being worth.