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Meditations on the Person, Work, and Covenant Offices
of God the Holy Spirit
by J. C. Philpot
Table of Contents
When our blessed Lord, after his resurrection from the dead, appeared to his disciples at the sea of Tiberias, and after they had dined, put that solemn, that heart-searching inquiry to Peter fallen, fallen, but now restored Peter, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?" and drew from his heart and lips that warm, that affectionate reply, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you," the gracious Redeemer, as if to show how that love was most clearly to be manifested, thrice said to him, "Feed my sheep." To feed Christ's sheep, then, was, in Peter's case, to be both the test and the privilege of love. But to all who love the Lord as sincerely, if not as warmly as Peter, it is not given to feed his sheep, at least not in the same sense as intended by the risen Redeemer in the charge thus laid on the chief of the Apostles. All indeed, or nearly all, who love the Lord, may minister to his people; but all ministration is not ministry. The former belongs to many, the latter to but few.
The cup of cold water given in the name of a disciple; the tear of tender sympathy when we weep with those who weep; the kind word which when spoken in season is so good; the gentle yet firm reproof, whereby a snare of death is sometimes broken; the godly example which often speaks more pointedly and more loudly than any uttered words; the earnest warning when danger is foreseen approaching one to whom we feel specially united; the wise counsel, asked or offered, under perplexing circumstances; the tried yet unbroken friendship of years, again and again displayed in word and deed; the thousand nameless offices demanded by a sick bed or a long and painful affliction; the liberal hand where God in his providence has furnished the means, and the prayerful heart where he has denied them--all these, and they might easily be multiplied, are instances of Christian ministration as distinct from Christian ministry. But although the members of the mystical body of Christ thus mutually ministered to each other's comfort and edification, though, alas! in our degenerate day, love having waxed cold, this communication of nourishment by mutual service has proportionally declined in strength and efficacy, yet this is not the same work as that given to Peter.
The ministry of the word; the preaching of the gospel; the overseeing and ruling of the flock, all which offices of a spiritual shepherd are implied in the charge, "Feed my sheep," point to and enforce a distinct, a higher privilege than any private ministration, however blessed to the profit or comfort of the members of Christ. This is committed in an especial manner to the servants of God. (1 Cor. 4:1; Eph. 4:11, 12; 1 Thess. 2:4; 2 Tim. 2:2; 1 Pet. 5:1-3.) But as in the flock of Christ there are "lambs" as well as sheep, the gracious Lord said also to Peter on the same occasion, "Feed my lambs;" even those lambs whom, as so weak and feeble and yet so tenderly loved, he gathers with his arm and carries in his bosom. (Isa. 40:11.)
"Feed, then, my sheep; feed my lambs," was the charge given to Peter; but not to Peter only, for he himself, writing in after days, well-near thirty years after the Lord had thus commissioned him, speaks as one who shared his office with others--"To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers--not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock." (1 Pet. 5:1-3.) Nor less clear is Paul in his parting discourse to the elders of the Church at Ephesus--"Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to feed the Church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood." (Acts 20:28.)
But we need not enlarge on this point. The appointment by the Lord of a Christian ministry under the gospel dispensation is so clear that none can doubt it who have the least belief in, none deny it who have the least reverence for the word of truth. The more difficult, the more trying point is who are the men thus called to the work of the ministry, and what are their necessary qualifications? Does not the Scripture warrant us in laying down at least the following? As they have to feed Christ's sheep and lambs, they must be able to bring forth food for men as well as milk for babes; (1 Cor. 3:1, 2; Heb. 5:12-14; 1 Pet. 2:2, 3;) for to be pastors according to God's own heart, they must feed his people with knowledge and understanding; (Jer. 3:15;) which assumes that they know the truth for themselves in its purity and power. They must also "take forth the precious from the vile," (Jer. 15:19,) that they may be "as God's mouth," speaking with authority in his name.
To love, then, the Lord from some manifestation of his Person, some display of his grace, some view of his glory, for if we have neither seen him nor heard him, if we neither believe in him nor love him, how can we set him forth as the chief among ten thousand and altogether lovely? to love his people for his sake as members of his mystical body; to know his truth by some sweet experience of its power; (John 8:32;) to have some spiritual understanding of the mysteries of the kingdom of God; (Matt. 13:11;) to possess a gracious insight into the distinction between the precious and the vile, and power and faithfulness to take forth the one from the other; and to be favored with a sufficient spiritual gift rightly to divide the word of truth, and preach the gospel of the grace of God with a measure of savor, unction, dew, and power; (2 Cor. 2:14; 1 John 2:20; Deut. 32:2; 1 Cor. 2:4; 1 Thess. 1:5;) are not these scriptural marks of those highly favored men whose commission it is to feed the Church of God?
Now it is not for us to say who do and who do not come up to this scriptural standard. We have not been made judges either of men's graces or of men's gifts. We have rather to look to ourselves. "Take heed unto yourself and unto the doctrine," says the Apostle; (1 Tim. 4:16;) and again, "But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden." (Gal. 6:4, 5.) But whether we try ourselves and our own work or not, one thing is certain, that God will try both us and it--"Every man's work shall be made manifest; for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is." (2 Cor. 3:13.)
But the question may perhaps arise in our readers' minds, "To what is all this prefatory?" for they will naturally conclude that there is some aim intended by these remarks; that they are not mere scattered reflections without point or meaning, but are connected with some object to which they are but introductory. It is so. They have a bearing on the subject of the present article, and are intended as introductory to the Meditations which we propose, with God's help and blessing, to lay before our readers. The connection is this--There is a feeding of the Church of God by pen as well as by tongue; and we cannot help expressing our belief that the qualifications are much the same. Not, indeed, that all who can preach can write. They may lack the ability or the opportunity; may be eminent servants of God, highly favored and blessed in the ministry, and yet not be gifted with the pen of a ready writer, or may not be placed in a position to use it. Now, though we, in the providence, and, we hope, by the grace of God, have been enabled for many years to set forth his truth, both by tongue and pen, we do not, we dare not claim any large share in those qualifications to feed the Church of God which we have laid down from the Scriptures as necessary for that purpose.
These qualifications may press us hard as they do others; but we must not lower God's standard to meet our own short stature, or debase his pure coins for lack of a supply of gold from the heavenly treasury. Let God be true, but every man a liar. Instead, then, of laying any claim to these qualifications to feed the Church of God, we would rather see their necessity, feel our lack of them, and crave of the Lord to bestow them upon us, than assume to ourselves their possession. But this we can fairly say, that our aim and desire are, and have been for many years, to feed the sheep and lambs of Christ's flock; and that, being placed in a position whence we can reach by our pen many who truly fear God, whom we never have seen and never shall see in the flesh, we feel ourselves bound by every constraint of love to seek their spiritual good. Prompted, then, by this desire, we have sought in previous papers to lay before them some Meditations on the Person and covenant characters of the Lord Jesus Christ; and, as these have been received by them in a spirit of affection, we have been encouraged to commence a new series of thoughts on the Person and work of the blessed Spirit.
Other reasons move us also to employ our pen on these heavenly subjects. In these days of error, it is most necessary that the children of God, who would not be entangled in the snares of the enemy, should be well grounded and established in the truth; and this by the teaching and testimony, work and witness of the blessed Spirit. For lack of this heavenly instruction, how many who are weak in the faith or ignorant of Satan's devices are caught with some new view, some novel interpretation of a text, some subtle, plausible explanation of a passage in which, could they see into the real intention of the writer or speaker, they would at a glance perceive some abominable heresy couched. But when the truth has been made sweet and precious to the heart by an unction from above, and becomes endeared to the soul by being made the power of God unto salvation, there is communicated thereby a spiritual insight which, as if instinctively, detects error by the distaste which is felt towards it, as jarring with the Spirit's inward teaching. One so taught, to use a figure, is like a person possessed of a musical ear, who detects at once a false note, even where there has not been much, if any, musical education.
Many of the dear family of God, as possessed of this heavenly teaching, feel who cannot argue, believe who cannot reason, love who cannot explain. These are ever feeling after truth, feeling for its power in their own hearts; and when this power is made experimentally known, when it comes as a gracious, heavenly influence into their souls, and drops with the dew and unction of the Spirit into their consciences, there is raised up and drawn forth thereby a living faith, a confiding trust, a silent witness within to its reality and blessedness, by which it is sealed, as with the very voice of God. In this divine witness to the power of the truth are couched all their hopes which anchor within the veil, all the tokens for good which, as so many waymarks, line their struggling, suffering path, all the comfort which supports them as a cordial under all their afflictions and sorrows in life, and all the confidence which they have in the Lord's faithfulness to his promises; for as the truth is thus sealed with a heavenly unction on their bosom, it gives them an assurance of a saving interest in it which makes it unspeakably sweet and precious, as a sure pledge of an incorruptible, undefiled inheritance, which does not fade away.
If, then, our Meditations on the Person and work of the blessed Spirit should lead any of the dear family of God into clearer views of that heavenly Teacher and most benevolent Comforter, or in any way strengthen their faith, confirm their hope, brighten their evidences, establish their minds, draw forth their affections, and fix them more deeply and firmly in the truth, we shall not grudge the labor both of time and thought which it demands to set it forth in any way adequate to its vast importance and divine blessedness.
I. The first place demanded in our Meditations on the blessed Spirit is the TITLES which he wears in the word of truth, for these form an essential part of the testimony which is borne to him from heaven, and as such they shed a clear and blessed light on his Person and work. Titles, as given and used by man, may be or may not be of any real value. They may be true evidences of character, or perjured witnesses a faithful description, or a rank imposition. They cannot be taken in themselves as undeniable marks, for there are "flattering titles" (Job 32:21) to mislead our judgment as well as faithful titles to guide or confirm it. But the titles which God gives of things in heaven, or things on earth, or things under the earth, are infallibly true, and are intended by him as expressive of his unerring knowledge and sure testimony. This, therefore, stamps a peculiar weight and value on the titles given by him to the blessed Spirit in the word of truth.
1. The first of these titles which demands our careful consideration is that of "the SPIRIT."
This title expresses three things--1. His divine nature, for "God is a Spirit," (John 4:24,) that is, as well expressed in the first of the 39 Articles, "Without body, parts, or passions," essentially a pure incorporeal Spirit as distinct from any material, divisible substance; and therefore, as eternally and intrinsically possessed of Godhead, the Holy Spirit is termed "a Spirit." But 2, it expresses the mode of his subsistence in the blessed Trinity, as proceeding from the Father and the Son in a mystical, incomprehensible manner by spiration, as the breath proceeds from our body. This is a deep mystery, above all comprehension, and therefore beyond all explanation; but as he is declared by our blessed Lord to proceed from the Father, (John 15:26,) is called "the Spirit of the Son," (Gal. 4:6,) and "the Spirit of Christ;" (Rom. 8:9;) and as sometimes the Father is said to send him and sometimes the Son, (John 14:26, 16:7,) faith gathers the conclusion that in a mysterious, inexplicable manner the blessed Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.
As a type, therefore, and representation of this mode of his divine substance by spiration, or breathing, God, at the first creation of man, breathed into Adam's nostrils the breath of life; (Gen. 2:7;) and so our blessed Lord breathed on the Apostles when he said unto them, Receive the Holy Spirit." (John 20:22.) But he is called also "the Spirit," 3, to express his mode of operation on the hearts of the people of God, which is compared in scripture to a breath, or the movement of the wind--"Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain that they may live;" (Ezek. 37:9;) and so, on the day of Pentecost, in his miraculous descent on the Apostles, "suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing, mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting." (Acts 2:2.)
2. But as we shall have occasion to speak more upon this point hereafter, we pass on to another title given to him in the word of truth. He is, then, emphatically and by way of eminence called "the HOLY Spirit." This is his special title in the New Testament, though we find him so designated in the Old; as, "Take not your Holy Spirit from me;" (Psalm 51:11;) "But they rebelled and vexed his Holy Spirit;" and again, "Where is he who put his Holy Spirit within him?" (Isa. 62:10, 11.) But he bears this title chiefly for two reasons--1. First, to indicate the eternal and essential holiness of his nature, as opposed to and distinct from an unclean spirit; for as God absolutely is "Holy," and so declares of himself, "I the Lord your God am holy," (Lev. 19:2,) and as the Son is called "the Holy One of Israel," (Isa. 43:3, 14,) so is the blessed Spirit termed "Holy" in respect of the infinite holiness of his divine nature. Thus the seraphim in the temple, as seen in vision by the prophet, cried one unto another, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;" holy the Father, holy the Son, holy the Spirit; (Isa. 6:3;) their threefold ascription of holiness, designating the three Persons in the blessed Trinity, and the oneness of title, "the Lord Almighty," the Unity of the divine essence. But he is also called "the Holy Spirit," 2, as the source and fountain of all holiness, it being his peculiar covenant office and prerogative to communicate and breathe, operate and produce it in the hearts, lips, and lives of the people of God.
3. He is called also "the GOOD Spirit." "My Spirit is good." (Psalm 143:10.) "You gave also your good Spirit to instruct them." (Neh. 9:20.) This title expresses the supreme and essential clemency, benignity, kindness, tenderness, pity, compassion, and bounty of the blessed Spirit, all of which, as partaking of and sharing in all the perfections and attributes of Godhead, he possesses infinitely in himself. "Why do you call me good?" said the blessed Lord to one who called him, "good Master." "None is good, save one, that is God." (Luke 18:19.) Meaning, not that he was not himself God, but that God is infinitely, essentially, and supremely good, distinct from and above any goodness of man, such as the ruler took him to be. This "goodness" therefore of God, "leads to repentance;" (Rom. 2:4;) as touching the inmost springs of the heart, and melting the soul under a felt sense of his most undeserved clemency and loving kindness. So "the good Spirit," as essentially and supremely good, bends in love and pity over the family of God, and by his benevolent operations on their heart softens and melts them into contrition and love.
4. He is also called "the Spirit of TRUTH." Thrice is he so termed by the blessed Lord in his farewell discourse to his disciples, (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13,) and he bears this title as supremely possessed of truth; as containing it in himself as a divine Fountain; as animating it in all his communications with his vital breath; as revealing it in the Scriptures; as applying it to the heart, and sealing it with his own gracious and most comforting, establishing witness on the conscience.
5. He is called also "the COMFORTER," as consoling the tried and tempted, distressed and afflicted children of God, by dropping words of peace into their bosom; as revealing to them the Son of God, in his beauty and blessedness, boundless grace, and heavenly glory; as applying the promises with unction and power to their wounded spirit; as taking of the things of Christ and showing them to their soul; as shedding the love of God abroad in their heart and sealing them to the day of redemption.
6. He is also called "the ADVOCATE," as the word translated Comforter may be rendered, being in this sense the "Paraclete," or inward Intercessor at the throne of grace; for "he helps their infirmities" and intercedes for them and in them "with groanings which cannot be uttered." (Rom. 8:26.)
Most of these titles will come again under consideration, and we shall therefore not dwell longer on this part of our subject, but proceed to two other points of deep and vital importance, namely, the Deity and Personality of the blessed Spirit. These two points are intimately connected, and fit, as it were, into each other; but we shall consider them separately.
II. The DEITY of the blessed Spirit is so connected with the Trinity, that it can hardly be separated from a consideration of that vital, that glorious truth. If he is God, he is such a Person in the Trinity; for there are not three Gods, though there are three Persons in the Godhead. We cannot be too clear, too precise, too decided here. Three distinct Persons in one undivided Godhead is a truth which so lies at the foundation of all divine revelation, whether external in the word or internal in the soul, is so the life of every doctrine, the substance of every promise, the force of every precept, the strength of all faith, the foundation of all hope, and the source and object of all love, that to be unsound there is to be unsound everywhere. It is, indeed, a heavenly mystery, and, as such, is beyond all understanding, and therefore beyond all explanation.
It is, indeed, not contrary to reason, but above it; and therefore is to be apprehended by faith, not comprehended by sense; to be reverently adored, not curiously pried into; to be received from the testimony of God, not the tradition of men; to be felt, not reasoned about; to be realized, not speculated upon; to be enjoyed, not trifled with; to be fed upon, not looked at; to be cleaved unto as a matter of vital experience and personal salvation, not held as a mere doctrine or the leading article of a sound creed; to be daily lived upon as the life of the soul, not gazed at in the dim distance as a shadowy inexplicable mystery, of which we have heard by the hearing of the ear, but have never tasted nor handled for ourselves. The Trinity, therefore, assumes and involves both the Deity and the Personality of the Holy Spirit, for if a Person in the Trinity, he must be a divine Person, and if a divine Person, he has a substantial existence, and is not a mere covenant title, a shadowy name, a breath, an influence, an afflatus, or an emanation.
The SCRIPTURAL PROOFS of the Deity of the blessed Spirit may be thus arranged:
1. He is named in union with the Father and the Son, as one with them in power, authority, grace, and glory, and yet as distinct in his divine Personality. Thus, in the charge given by the blessed Lord to his disciples just previously to his ascension--"Go, therefore, and teach all, nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." (Matt. 28:19.) What can be more plain than this testimony to the Deity of the blessed Spirit? The solemn ordinance of baptism is commanded to be administered in the name of the Father, in the name of the Son, and in the name of the Holy Spirit. "The name," that is the authority and power (Acts 3:16; 4:7, 10) of Father, Son, and Spirit, is thus declared to be one, and therefore their nature and essence must be alike and equally one. Can we think for a single moment that any created being, however high, any angel or seraph, however bright and holy, or that any name inferior to Deity could have been associated by our Lord with the name of the Father and of the Son? Or can we believe that a mere title, a virtue, an influence, a passing, fleeting breath--could be ranked as of equal dignity and authority with the other two divine Persons of the sacred Trinity?
A similar argument may be drawn from the apostolic benediction--"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.) Grace, love, and fellowship! From what can these three precious gifts come but from three co-equal, co-eternal Persons in one undivided Essence? If the Son give grace, and the Father give love, and the Holy Spirit give communion, surely these three divine Persons must be equal in dignity and power, and yet are but one God.
So, at the baptism of our gracious Redeemer, the three Persons of the sacred Trinity all appeared in open manifestation the Son in the water, the Father speaking with an audible voice from heaven, and the Holy Spirit descending in a bodily shape like a dove. (Luke 3:22.) Similar proofs, on which we need not now enlarge, may be drawn from Eph. 2:18; Col, 2:2; 2 Thess. 3:5; Rev. 1:4, 5; in all which passages express or implied mention is made of the three Persons in the holy Trinity.
2. The names given in the Scripture to the blessed Spirit afford another clear proof of his Deity. Thus he is termed "Jehovah," that peculiar, that incommunicable name, which belongs solely to the great and glorious "I AM." Who but the Lord, that is Jehovah, the Lord God of Israel, spoken by the prophets? "And he said, Hear now my words--If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream." (Num. 12:6.) "And the Lord spoke by his servants the prophets." (2 Kings 21:10.) But we are expressly told that "prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit." (2 Pet. 1:21.) So David declared on his dying bed--"The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, and his word was in my tongue." (2 Sam. 23:2.) Similarly the prophecies that went before of Judas, are declared by Peter to have been spoken by the Holy Spirit--"Men and brethren, this Scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit by the mouth of David spoke before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus." (Acts 1:16.)
So in that solemn warning given in the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Apostle says, "Therefore as the Holy Spirit says, Today if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness." (Heb. 3:7, 8.) When Paul, too, would close his warning word to the Jews at Rome, he said, "The Holy Spirit was right when he said to our ancestors through Isaiah the prophet, 'Go and say to my people, You will hear my words, but you will not understand; you will see what I do, but you will not perceive its meaning." (Acts 28:25, 26.) But these were the words spoken by the Lord to Isaiah when he had that glorious vision of the Lord of hosts, to which we have already referred.