Meditations on the Holy Spirit

by J. C. Philpot

Chapter III.

In our last Paper on the Person, work, and covenant offices of the blessed Spirit, we brought to a close our scriptural proofs of his eternal and essential Deity. We shall now, therefore, endeavor, with God's help and blessing, to unfold a point very closely and intimately connected with his essential Deity, that is, the Holy Spirit's divine Personality; in other words, we shall attempt to show from the word of truth that he who in Scripture bears the sacred name of the Holy Spirit is not a breath, or an emanation, or a quality, or an energy, an operation, or an influence of God, from time to time put forth by him--but a distinct Person in the Triune Jehovah.

But as on these important points clearness of thought and of expression is eminently desirable, for often, like the mob at Ephesus, "some cry one thing and some another, until the whole assembly" of writers and readers "is confused, and the most part know not why they came together," (Acts 19:32,) let us, at the very commencement of our argument, first explain and define what we understand by a Person, and show how such a one differs from a breath, a power, or an influence. Nor let any one think that this doctrine of the distinct Personality of the Holy Spirit is a mere strife of words, an unimportant matter, or an unprofitable discussion, which we may take or leave, believe or deny, without any injury to our faith or hope. On the contrary, let this be firmly impressed on your mind, that if you deny or disbelieve the Personality of the blessed Spirit, you deny and disbelieve with it the grand foundation truth of the Trinity; and "if the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?" You may talk of your deep and long experience,* or of your consistent practice; but "does a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?" (James 3:11.) If your doctrine be unsound, your experience must be a delusion, and your practice an imposition. You, then, who desire to be right and fear to be wrong, who prize the truth of God more than thousands of gold and silver, "make straight paths for your feet," and look and see whether you have been taught of God that precious doctrine of a Triune Jehovah, and have a personal knowledge and experience in your own soul of each of the Three Persons in the Godhead. "Look," we repeat it, "to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward." (2 John 8.)

* There is a sect, if we may so call it, of Socinian Baptists in some of the eastern counties, who will talk glibly and seemingly well of their experience, of convictions of sin, and of mercy received; but if you touch them upon the Deity and eternal Sonship of Christ, or the Deity and Personality of the Holy Spirit, they will hiss like vipers! It is these to whom we allude, as speaking of their experience.

But as we write more to establish truth than to refute error, though we cannot well do the one without at the same time doing the other; and as many true believers in the Trinity may not have considered the strong grounds on which their faith rests, or may even have confused ideas on these high and heavenly doctrines, we shall endeavor, as clearly as we can, to unfold the testimony of God on this point for their instruction and edification.

By a Person, then, as a term applicable to the blessed Spirit, we understand a living, intelligent Agent, one who has a distinct spiritual subsistence, and is possessed of a will and power of his own, which he exerts and manifests so as to show that he has a real, substantial existence. Now compare with this living, breathing, intelligent, active Person an influence proceeding from God, and observe how widely they differ. You, I, we all are persons, and as such we exert a certain influence upon our families, our dependents, our friends.

A minister, for instance, exerts an influence upon his Church and congregation. His words, or actions, or spirit issuing from him carry with them a certain power, and are impregnated with a peculiar influence. But this is not the man. His person and his influence are as distinct as the sun and the warmth of the sun, or as the moon and the light of the moon. Now see the craft of those subtle heretics who deny the Personality of the Holy Spirit, and resolve all that is said of the Spirit in Scripture into an influence exerted by God, as the sun exerts an influence upon vegetation by his light and heat, or into an act of power, as when a magistrate exerts his legal authority. It may seem, at first sight, a matter of no great importance, or a mere subtle distinction of learned divines, or a theological quibble, or that it all comes to the same thing in the end. But penetrate through these crafty devices, and then you will see how the denial of the Personality of the blessed Spirit is a deadly poison, an error of the first magnitude,* for it strikes at once a Person out of the Trinity; and what is this but to nullify and destroy the doctrine of the Trinity altogether? Men of God, in both ancient and modern times, knew well the sacred blessedness of truth and the damnable nature of error; and this deep conviction led them to fence off the one from the other by using expressions such as the Trinity, Personality, etc., which, if not precisely Scripture words, are so far scriptural language that they clearly and definitely express Scripture truth.

* The late Mr. Gadsby would never allow any man to stand in his pulpit who objected to the expression, "God the Holy Spirit;" for there were at one time in the North Calvinistic Baptist ministers, and some, we believe who had been in connection with him, who would not use the words. Mr. Gadsby was perfectly right; and in this, as in all other points, manifested his hatred of error, and his faithfulness and decision for the truth.

But to bring this point to a simple and easily intelligible test, and to help you to distinguish between a person and a thing, take a quality, so to speak, or what is more commonly called an attribute of God, as his holiness, or his justice, or his mercy, or his love. These attributes of Jehovah have no personal subsistence distinct from himself, though sometimes, speaking figuratively, we assign to them personal acts. Thus when we say that "Justice draws its awful sword;" or, "Mercy smiles;" or, "Grace superabounds;" or, "Love draws," we do not mean that these attributes of God are so many distinct Persons in the Godhead, though the strong language of metaphor and figure invests them with a kind of temporary personality. But as we easily distinguish between the kindness of a person and the person himself who is kind, so we can similarly distinguish between the kindness of God and the Person of God himself.

Thus when we speak of the Personality of the Holy Spirit, we mean that he is not a certain power or influence, virtue, energy, or operation which God puts forth, as when in the first creation he created all things by the word of his mouth, or as he now manifests his sensible presence to the soul; but that the Holy Spirit is as much a distinct Person in the Godhead as the Father and the Son, and as such possesses all the peculiar attributes of Deity. Has the Father power? Yes; for "power belongs unto God." (Psalm 62:11.) So has the blessed Spirit, for "Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee." (Luke 4:14.) Has the Father love? Yes; for "God is love." "God so loved the world," etc. So has the Spirit. "Now I beseech you for the love of the Spirit." (Rom. 15:30.) Does the Father give commands? Yes; for "this commandment have we from him, that he who loves God love his brother also." (1 John 4:21.) So does the Spirit; for the Spirit bade Peter go with the servants of Cornelius, nothing doubting. (Acts 11:12.) But we are rather anticipating a line of proof, which we shall presently have occasion more fully to dwell upon. We have, therefore, merely adduced these two or three instances to explain, more clearly and fully what is intended by the expression the Personality of the Holy Spirit, and to show the distinction between a person and a quality, power, or influence.

We shall now, therefore, proceed to show from the firm word of truth that the blessed Spirit is truly and really a divine and distinct Person in the eternal, self-existent Godhead.

I. Our first class of proofs, for they may be conveniently arranged under two leading heads, shall be taken from those passages in which the Holy Spirit is spoken of in conjunction with the Father and the Son; and as these are by general admission Persons—the Person of the Father being spoken of Heb. 1:3, and the Person of Christ,* 2 Cor. 2:10—the Holy Spirit is a Person also. The first proof shall be taken from the words which our blessed Lord spoke to his disciples when he said to them--"Go therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Let us examine these solemn words of our blessed Lord with a view to the Personality of the blessed Spirit as distinctly expressed in them. Baptism, all admit, is the outward sign of admission into the visible Church of Christ, an ordinance of the Lord's own institution. In its administration, the believer is baptized "in the name," that is the authority,** of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Now does not this formula of baptism express, 1. A plurality of Persons? The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are each distinctly named; and 2. Unity of Essence? for it is not in the names, but "in the name" of the Three Persons, clearly implying that the Persons are Three, but the name, the nature, the essence, the being, the authority but One. But to establish this point as bearing upon the distinct Personality of the Spirit more clearly, try and substitute a quality, a breath, an influence, a virtue of God for the word "Holy Spirit." Such plain, simple tests are often more convincing, at least to some minds, than direct positive arguments. "Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of love." How flat, how uncouth, confused! How unworthy of the divine majesty of the blessed Lord who spoke the words! "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the divine breath." Still the same flat, uncouth, confused mixture, so that the veriest babe in grace could tell it was not such heavenly language as ever fell from him into whose lips grace was poured. It is hardly worth while to pursue the argument by making another trial of "energy," "power," "authority," or "influence." The result would be still the same, that all such terms at once betray themselves by their own nakedness and nothingness, as unfit to stand side by side with the name of the Father and of the Son. But now view the truth in its own pure and heavenly light, and read the words in the brightness of their own grace and glory. Read them as a believer in the blessed Trinity. Then how clear to faith is it that "the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" declares that these are three distinct co-equal, co-eternal Persons in one undivided Essence.

* The expression "in the face of Jesus Christ," (2 Cor. 4:6,) might be rendered "in the person of Jesus Christ;" it being precisely the same word as that translated person, 2 Cor. 2:10.

** The word "name" in the Scripture, as applied to God, signifies all that God has revealed of himself, whereby he can be known, believed in, worshiped, feared, and loved by the children of men. See, for the proof of this, Exod. 33:19; 34:5, 6. The name of God, therefore, includes and signifies all those glorious perfections of Deity which he has revealed of himself in the word of his grace.

2. But now under the same class of proof—the name of the Holy Spirit in the same connection with the Father and the Son; look at another text of holy writ, in which the Personality of the Holy Spirit is most clearly seen. It is that well-known benediction which so often and so fitly closes the service of God in the sanctuary--"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen." (2 Cor. 13:14.) See how the Three Persons of the sacred Trinity are here invocated and called upon to bestow each his distinct blessing. "The love"—the eternal love of God the Father; "the grace," in all its richness and fullness, of God the Son; and the sweet, sacred fellowship and "communion" of God the Holy Spirit—will the believing soul part with either the Person of each divine Giver or the gift of each divine Person? Are not Giver and gift, Person and work of all Three alike inseparable? We might, if it were worth while, try the same experiment with this text as with the one before quoted, Matt. 28:19. "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion"—of what? Of an influence, a quality, a virtue, a power, an emanation? What do they all mean? What fellowship is there in a breath, or a quality, or an influence? There can be communion only with a Person. Can a virtue, or a breath, or an influence converse with me, talk with me, commune with me, or I with it? Who ever expected a breath to speak, or conversed with it as a man converses with a friend? A poet might so speak in figurative language, or a lover may sigh his woeful complaints to the rocks, or tell his mournful tale to the purling stream, into which he drops his hot tears; but the blessing prayed for was not the longings of poet or lover, but the solid, solemn, holy aspiration of a man of God, who knew for himself what the sacred fellowship of God the Holy Spirit, as a divine Person, communicated to his soul.

"Your sweet communion charms the soul,
And gives true peace and joy,
Which Satan's power cannot control,
Nor all his wiles destroy."

This sweet communion never charmed the soul of those vile heretics who deny his Deity and Personality. Such sips and tastes of heavenly bliss are the sole portion of the living, believing, loving family of God.

3. Another testimony under the same class of Scripture proof to the Personality of the Holy Spirit may be drawn from his appearance at the baptism of our blessed Lord "in a bodily shape." "And the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, You are my beloved Son; in you I am well pleased." (Luke 3:22.) Here again, as we have pointed out in a preceding paper, the Three Persons of the blessed Trinity were all present. The Father spoke with an audible voice from heaven, the Son was in the water, and the Holy Spirit descended "in a bodily shape like a dove" upon him. Now it does not matter to the argument whether the Holy Spirit assumed the outward form of a dove, which seems the better meaning, or descended with the rapid motion of a dove. The point and force of the proof lie in the words, "in a bodily shape," and that his visible appearance was simultaneous, that is, occurred at the same moment with, that of the Father and the Son. "A bodily shape" presumes a personal subsistence. A quality, or an energy, or an influence, can have no bodily shape; but when the Holy Spirit would reveal in a sensible, visible manner his personal subsistence as a divine Person in the Trinity, he descended in a bodily form.

4. Another testimony of a similar character may be drawn from the celebrated passage of the three heavenly Witnesses--"For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one." (1 John 5:7.) How plainly and clearly is the Holy Spirit there joined with the Father and the Word, (or Son,) and how positive the declaration that these three are one—Three in a distinction of Persons, One in Unity of Essence!

II. But we pass on to another class of proofs of the Personality of the Holy Spirit. ACTIONS are ascribed to him which none but a person, and He a divine Person, can perform.

1. Thus he is said "to search all things, yes, the deep things of God;" "to know" the things of God; and "to teach" them in words not of human wisdom but of his own special inditing. (1 Cor. 2:10-13.) Are not all these personal actions? How can a quality, or a virtue, or an influence, except figuratively, and the Apostle is not speaking here in figures, know, search, or teach? If you came from a foreign country and told me that there was a dignified and exalted Personage there who searched, knew, and taught the inhabitants of that land all that was good for them to know, should I think you meant that there was a certain influence in that climate, or a peculiar virtue in the sun or air which knew, searched, and taught all things? Should you not deceive me by ascribing to a breath, or a passing influence, such actions as a person only can perform? So we may argue if all that the Holy Spirit is declared to do be not personal actions, but merely figurative expressions of a certain power which God puts forth, would not the Scriptures awfully deceive us, and could we credit their testimony on any other point?

2. But the fullest and most blessed testimony of these personal actions of the Holy Spirit is contained in the words of our Lord to his sorrowing disciples where he promised to send them "another Comforter." Now nothing can be more clear than that when the blessed Lord was with his disciples he was a personal Comforter. It was himself—"Behold it is I," who was ever with them. It was not, as now, his spiritual, but his actual bodily presence, which was their joy and strength. If, then, the promised Comforter were not a Person, and a divine Person, but a mere breath, an influence, or a quality, how could he be to them what Jesus had so long been? The Lord did not say to them, "I will send you comfort;" no! but "a Comforter;" another Comforter, who shall be to you all and more than all I have been to you.

But observe also the personal actions which the gracious Lord said this Comforter should perform. He was "to abide with them forever." (John 14:16.) Now an influence has no abiding, still less forever. When not put forth, it ceases to be. He was also "to dwell with them." This is a personal act. I dwell in my house, but an influence does not dwell. It is like the wind that passes away, and the place thereof knows it no more. When the blessed Lord said, in the same heavenly discourse--"Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words; and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him," (John 14:23,) are not the Father and the Son, who come and make their abode in the believer's heart, Persons? By parity of reasoning, then the Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, when he is said to dwell in believers, must be a divine Person also. He is also said "to teach and bring all things to remembrance" whatever Jesus said unto his disciples. Are not these personal actions? Does not the Lord expressly say "He"* not "it," "shall teach you all things?" We all know how peculiar, how authoritative, how distinct a living teacher is from any book. How wisely he can discriminate cases, fathom the extent of our ignorance, adapt his lessons to our capacity, chide us when we are sluggish or stupid, encourage us when we are diligent and attentive, blend tenderness with authority, and mingle affection with rebuke. But could an influence do all this? Where is the teacher's influence when he himself is not present? Let every large school testify. Where, too, the all-seeing eye; where the kindly hand; where the tender forbearance; where the peculiar adaptation to the thousands of wayward pupils could there be in a breath, or a passing power, compared with what the Holy Spirit, as a divine and distinct Person in the Godhead, personally exerts, as he looks down in all his infinite wisdom, and all the depths of his boundless pity and love, upon his dear pupils—the family of God?

3. He is said also "to testify," or bear witness. (John 15:26; Rom. 8:16; 1 John 5:6.) Is not this, too, a personal act? According to the Levitical law, personal testimony was needed. "At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he who is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness shall he not be put to death." (Deut. 17:6.) What we call circumstantial evidence, as blood upon a man's clothes, or the property of the murdered person found upon him, was not admissible. The testimony only of personal, living witnesses was admissible under the Hebrew law. Thus our Lord could not be legally condemned by the Jewish Sanhedrin until the two false witnesses came to testify what they had personally and individually heard him say. Bearing, then, this in mind, see what a proof it is of the Personality of the blessed Spirit, that he bears witness. And observe also how, according to the Lord's words, he testifies or bears witness of him--"He shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you." (John 16:15.) Is not taking a personal action? It is as if the blessed Spirit had hands. You could not say of a quality, an operation, or an influence, that it takes of a thing.

* The "He" is very strongly expressed in the original; He, "that very person."

4. To speak also is a personal action. "He shall not speak of himself; but whatever he shall hear, that shall he speak." (John 16:13.) It is true that in figurative language, "the heavens" are said to "declare the glory of God," and that "there is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard." (Psalm 19:1) 3.) But this we know is figurative language; and so when the prophet says that "at the end the vision shall speak," (Hab. 2:3,) we clearly understand that it is a figure or metaphor. But our gracious Lord was not speaking figuratively to his disciples, but describing and declaring, in the plainest, simplest language, the work of the promised Comforter. It is hard to judge for others, but to us it seems that no simple-hearted, believing child of God can rise from the solemn perusal of these three chapters of John's Gospel (14, 15, 16) without the deepest persuasion that the Holy Spirit, the promised Comforter, is a divine Person in the Godhead.

5. To seal is another personal act. An influence cannot seal. You may be sealed by the blessed Spirit, and feel his sweet influences, as he seals the love of God on your heart; but it is He who seals. Of our blessed Lord we read--"Him has God the Father sealed." (John 6:27.) This was the personal act of God the Father. So believers are sealed by the Holy Spirit--"In whom also, after that you believed, you were sealed with (or by, as it might be rendered) that Holy Spirit of promise." (Eph. 1:13.) "And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby you are sealed unto the day of redemption." (Eph. 4:30.) When I sign and seal any legal document, as a deed or a power of attorney, is it not my personal act? The very words I use are a proof--"I deliver this as my act and deed." My personal act gives it all its validity. Another must not seal for me any more than he may sign for me. I must do it myself. So when the blessed, Spirit seals the love of God on the heart, it is a personal act, and from this personal act is derived both all its validity and all its blessedness.

6. To intercede for another is also a personal act. We see this especially in our glorious Intercessor within the veil. The personal intercession of Jesus is the most blessed feature of his presence in the courts of bliss. Now the blessed Spirit is declared to intercede for us--"Likewise the Spirit also helps our infirmities; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." (Rom. 8:26.) To help our infirmities is a personal act. View the thousands of poor, needy, tried, tempted saints, all full of infirmities, and see by the eye of faith that tender, holy, Almighty Intercessor helping the infirmities, however varied, of each and all. Must he not be a divine Person, ever present, who can thus help the several infirmities of thousands, and that from age to age? And O, his unparalleled condescension, himself to intercede for them with those unutterable groanings in which they vent the desires of their troubled hearts! and that he should thus "make intercession for them according to the will of God!"

It is by this inward witness, these personal teachings and divine operations of the blessed Spirit upon their hearts that the saints of God know for themselves his Deity and his Personality. Thus whatever infidels may deny, or heretics dispute, the child of God carries in his own bosom the precious testimony of the truth of God. He knows that he has not followed cunningly devised fables in believing, worshiping, adoring, and loving God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Three distinct Persons in One glorious, undivided Essence.

Our space, not our subject, nor our heart or hand, is exhausted on this glorious subject. We shall, therefore, with God's help and blessing, resume it in our next paper.