The Holy Spirit
His Past Work
The first page of our Bible mentions the activity of the Holy Spirit in creation. It is written, “And the Spirit of God moved (“hovered” or “soared;” cf. Dr. 32:11 for the same verb) upon the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2). The figure is a very expressive one, as if the Spirit, like a mother bird fluttering over its nest, soared over this cold, lifeless scene and with His warming, quickening power brought forth life. The figure of speech stresses His close, personal interest in creation.
In creation the Father is viewed as the Supreme Architect and Authority (Rev. 4:11). The Son is seen as the intermediate Agent who carries out the Father’s will (John 1:3; Col. 1:16). The Holy Spirit seems stressed as the One Who immediately was active in creation.
“Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou re-newest the face of the earth” (Ps. 104:30).
This is also true of redemption, where the Father plans salvation (Rom. 8:28, 29); the Son pays the price of salvation (1 Peter 1:18, 19) ; and the Holy Spirit by His intimate striving with men applies salvation to the individual and effects a new creation (John 3:6).
When humanity was ruined by sin in Eden, the Holy Spirit began the work which He has carried on ever since, the work of convicting man of sin. He struggles with man, seeking to bring him to repentance. As early as the days of Noah this activity is described as a striving with man (Gen. 6:3). Incidentally, the same verse shows that there is a limit to God’s patience and a time when God may give man up and let him go his way. What words of warning to the sinner!
With regard to the believer in those days, we infer that the Spirit Who convicted men of their sin and showed them their need of salvation also regenerated them upon their having saving faith. Christ said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). He then went on to speak of the part the Spirit had in this Divine rebirth. He has elsewhere stated that the patriarchs and the prophets will be in the kingdom of God (Luke 13:28). If the new birth is a pre-requisite, they must have been born again.
Yet, until the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was not present with the believer in the intimate, permanent way that He is today. At times He is said to have filled a person for a certain work (Ex. 31:3; 35: 31.). Generally He is described as coming “upon” a person (Num. 11:25, 26). Apparently the thought is often of a temporary “empowering,” “mastering” or “taking control” of a person. This might be to give super-human strength (Judges 14:6), to give special understanding in artistic creativeness (Ex. 31:3-5), to empower one with the gift of prophecy (1 Sam. 10:10), to give boldness in testifying against sin (2 Chron. 15:1), and to empower for other service for God. Apparently the Spirit could use even the brute creation (Num. 22:28), a king who ended life reprobate (1 Sam. 16:14), and a false prophet (1 Kings 11:13-22). In the days of our Lord He enabled a wicked, religious racketeer, Caiaphas, to prophesy (John 11:49-51).
Perhaps the olden activity of the Spirit which means the most to us is His amazing work of inspiring and preserving the Scriptures. Even before the written books of Moses, no doubt He was active in preserving a true, oral tradition, and possibly written accounts, of creation, the fall, the need of sacrifice, and early accounts of God’s dealings with man. Then from the time of Moses on He inspired and preserved those writings which make up the Old Testament.
Not that every word recorded is from God, although many are direct prophecies (2 Peter 1:21). Some are Satan’s words (Gen. 3:15); some are the reasonings of the natural man (Ecclesiastes) ; and some record the depraved sayings and deeds of man’s wicked heart (Gen. 38). Yet all are recorded by the Spirit through man’s agency for the eternal profit and blessing of God’s people (2 Tim. 3:16, 17).
The thirty-nine books of the Old Testament, recorded over a period of more than one thousand years by men of varied background and education, ranging from the rustic herdsman Amos to the cultured, sophisticated Solomon, all combine to lay a foundation for the advent of the Messiah and the advanced instruction penned in the New Testament. What a glorious wealth of instruction it is to the one whose ear has been opened by the Spirit of truth.
Then after the ascension of our Lord to Heaven; after a break of more than 400 years from the writing of the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit once again empowers men for the writing of the New Testament books. Possibly the first written was the book of James around 48 A.D. and the last written were those by John the Apostle about 90 A.D. Again the writers are very different in temperament, education, and background. From Peter, the impulsive fisherman, to Luke, the educated physician, is a wide span. Yet all harmonize and give up, like a costly gem with many facets, the varied aspects of Divine truth needed for the Christian life. Surely in the Scriptures are found “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3).
The Spirit also had a definite ministry in the birth and life of the Messiah. Conception became possible for the Virgin through the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35; Matt. 1:18, 20). When our Lord reached the age of thirty, He was baptized by John in the Jordan and the Spirit came upon Him in the visible form of a dove (Matt. 3:16). As man He needed the Divine power of the Spirit upon His life and ministry. He later claimed for Himself Isaiah 61:1, 2, saying:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because He anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor:
He hath sent me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovering of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty them that are bruised,
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
Luke 4:18, 19, A.S.V.
In a marvelous way the life of our Lord reveals the power and energy of the Holy Spirit. He did always those things that please the Father (John 8:29). Surely His life was “full of the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:1). At the hour of His greatest humiliation it was “through the eternal Spirit” (Heb. 9:14) that He offered Himself as the sin offering of the world. On the first day of the week, the day of glorious triumph, He was “raised up” by the Spirit (Rom. 8:11). His post-resurrection teaching was “through the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:2). His every breath and movement pulsated with the Divine energy of the “Lord the Spirit.” He is our perfect pattern for godly living.
His Present Work
With regard to unbelievers, the Holy Spirit’s work is much the same as in ages past. He deals with the conscience, giving rapier-like thrusts into the very heart of man, bringing thoughts of sin and remorse. In particular does He use the Word of God as a razor-sharp sword (Heb. 4:12).
However, His work of conviction has a broader scope since Calvary. Not only does He convict of the sin of breaking God’s Law, but as the soul stands in the shadow of Golgotha, the Spirit brings soul-shaking conviction of the awfulness of rejecting God’s marvelous overture of grace (John 16:8-11).
Not only does He stand as the Great Convictor, but His role is that of the Great Pleader. He presents Christ in all of His attractiveness and glory as the Saviour (John 15:26; 16:14). His pleading, tender word is still, “Come” (Rev. 22:17). Today His Voice is heard through the witness of believers across the face of the earth. Dear Christian, does He plead through your lips?
When the sinner does yield to the wooing call of the Spirit and accepts Christ, the Spirit begins a work in him which does not stop until resurrection. Immediately upon trusting Christ, the Spirit becomes the mark, the seal, upon that soul that he is the property of God. God will not rest until those bearing His seal are safely home (Eph. 1:13,14). Each one of the Lord’s sheep thus bears His earmark. (Related to this thought is His being an “earnest,” “down payment,” and hence the assurance of redemption.
At the same moment of trust, regeneration of the soul takes place; there is a new birth through the Spirit (Jn. 3:3, 6; 2 Cor. 5:17). This does not mean that the old nature is removed, but it does mean that sin need no longer reign in the soul (Rom. 6:12-14). The very life of God has entered the soul; he is born of God (1 Jn. 5:1).
The Spirit then makes the believer’s body His residence (1 Cor. 6:19). In this is one of the differences between His working in olden days and in this age since Pentecost. Christ said that the transient, external presence of the Spirit would give place to His permanent, internal dwelling in the believer (Jn. 14:16, 17). This is a precious, glorious reality.
This Holy Guest has as His mission to conform the believer to God’s will and His will is that we be holy (2 Peter 1:16; 2 Thess. 2:13). This progressive change He effects (2 Cor. 3:18); it is by “the Lord the Spirit.” With this goal in view He is grieved by sin in the believer’s life (Eph. 4:30) and He is heart-sick when the believer quenches His longings to express the message of God (1 Thess. 5:19). He, the Author of the Scriptures, delights to open their pages and to feed the soul (1 Cor. 2:12; 1 Jn. 2:20; Jn. 16:13, 14). In exercised prayer to God the believer pours out his heart and the Spirit prays through him soul-shaking “groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26).
The Spirit delights to fill the soul with His power and glory (Eph. 4:18). When He thus has His way, the believer’s witness is the Voice of “the Spirit of your Father” (Matt. 10:20) ; it is a witness with power and convincing authority (Rom. 15:19; I Cor. 2:4).
Not only does the Spirit speak with words, but with works, not only with lips, but with life. The believer is like “a tree planted by the rivers of the water that bringeth forth his fruit in his season” (Ps. l:3). With the roots of his soul deep in the life-giving energy of the Spirit, the believer produces the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23), that which continually amazes and convicts a godless world with its unselfish purity, a life revealing the very Nature of God. This is His greatest sermon to fallen man (2 Cor. 3:3).
Before leaving the Spirit’s work with the individual, spiritual gifts should be mentioned. When God the Son ascended back to glory, He returned as the triumphant Victor (Col. 2:1) and because of His victory was able to give gifts to those who share in His triumph (Eph. 4:7, 8). The Holy Spirit as His Agent delivers these gifts to believers and empowers them for usefulness (1 Cor. 12:4-11). Each has received some spiritual gift to be used for the glory of God. These are not natural talents, but are spiritual abilities given for the strengthening of God’s work on earth. The Spirit also guides and directs in the use of His gifts (Acts 8:29, 39). It behooves each believer to use his gift for God’s glory and not to bury it or abuse it (Matt. 25:19; 2 Cor. 5:10).
And in the end—
“But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwelleth in you, He that raised up Christ Jesus from the dead shall give life also to your mortal bodies through his Spirit that dwelleth in you.”
(Rom. 8:11, A.S.V.).