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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15

The Personality of the Holy Spirit

A. J. Gordon, D.D., Boston, Mass.

From the book, Baptist Doctrines, 1880, Charles A. Jenkens, Ed

“And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever.”—John 14:16.

We have in these words a comparison and a contrast. The comparison is between Christ and the Holy Spirit. For the words "another Comforter" carry the thought, that Jesus is one comforter, and the Spirit who should come is another. Thus, by a single word, our Lord puts the Holy Spirit on the same plane with himself. There is no comparison between a person and an influence. If I say, "I am a man and you are another," I mean, of course, that you are another man. Thus it seems to me, we have our Lord's estimate of the Spirit established in a single word.

Mechanics have an instrument, you know, which they call a "spirit level," which being placed across two objects, indicates when they are upon exactly the same plane. Such is the word "another" as here employed. By it Christ fixes forever the divine level between himself and the Holy Ghost. And whatever claim of divinity and personality he made for himself as the advocate with God-for that is what the word here translated " Comforter means—he now makes for the Spirit who was to come, since he puts that Spirit upon the same level with himself by calling him "another advocate."

And there is also a contrast between Christ and the Spirit. "I go away," the Lord had three times said in the previous part of his discourse. Of the Spirit he says, "that he may abide with you forever." It is the contrast between Christ's brief visit to earth, and the Spirit's perpetual and abiding presence on earth. And this comparison and contrast suggest two thoughts—the personality and the perpetual presence of the Holy Spirit:

1.  It seems to me that the text teaches quite dis­tinctly the personality and divinity of the Holy Spirit. For the word comforter or advocate could hardly be applied to other than a person. An advocate is one who stands for another, as a lawyer for his client. "If any man sin," says John, "we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." It is a word which strongly and especially carries in it the idea of personality. No concentration of spiritual influences, no combination of divine impressions could ever be intense enough to constitute an advocate. The sun's rays condensed to a focus will kindle a fire, but they cannot make a sun, since they are only an emanation of the sun. And no spiritual influences, however powerful, can make a spirit or constitute an advocate, pleading, speaking and standing for us before God. A person can produce influences, but no amount of influences can ever constitute a person.

Indeed, the more we study the word paraclete or "advocate," the more fertile do we find it to be in suggestions in regard to the personality of the Holy Spirit. It is that which takes the place of Jesus in his separation from his Church. "If I depart I will send the Comforter unto you." Here the thought is clearly that of a substitute for Christ in his absence. And when he says that it is expedient for him to go away in order that this substitute may come, a most powerful impression is at once made upon the mind, of the greatness and dignity of a being that shall be deemed worthy to take the place in the world which is about to be made vacant by the Son of God. If the Lord himself is a person, surely his vicegerent must also be a person.

But then we hear Christ, in the same discourse, identify himself with this person: “I will not leave you comfortless, I will come unto you.” So closely and mysteriously related is the Lord to this coming advocate that he thus speaks of him as another self. And if the Lord is divine, surely this advocate must be divine. And not only this. There is a constant identification of ministry and offices between Christ and the Spirit in convincing of sin, in revealing the truth, in intercession with God. As Christ testifies of the Father, so the Spirit testifies of Christ. Christ comes in the Father's name; the Spirit comes in Christ's name. Christ makes known to men the things of the Father; the Spirit makes known the things of Christ. Christ reveals himself as one with the Father; and he reveals the Holy Spirit as one with himself. Christ is "an advocate with the Father;” the Holy Spirit is "another advocate."

Thus, in all our Lord's predictions concerning the Spirit who should come, he seems to be not only installing a divine successor in his place, but to be bequeathing to that successor all the offices and dignities and attributes which he himself had claimed. And this testimony of Jesus to the Spirit is more decisive than any word of that Spirit himself could be. For did not Christ teach us that even a divine being is not to base his claims upon his own testimony? "If I bear witness of myself," said Jesus, "my witness is not true." And so he appealed constantly to the testimony of his Father. So does the Holy Ghost appeal to the testimony of Christ. From the silent heavens God speaks concerning Jesus, "This is my beloved Son; hear ye him." And just before Christ enters into those silent heavens that must contain him until the times of restitution of all things, he spoke concerning the Spirit, “Howbeit, when he the Spirit of Truth shall come he will guide you into all truth.”

What a being that must be to whom the Lord committed the trust of leading his disciples into all truth after his own departure! The Spirit, who was to be a more advanced teacher than Christ, surely could not be a less exalted person; the one who was to enlarge and intensify the work which Jesus had begun could not belong to a lower rank of being than Jesus. In God's school men do not graduate downward any more than in man's school. And if the Holy Spirit were anything less than a divine person, I cannot conceive of Christ's dismissing his disciples to his tuition with the saying, "I have taught much, but this instructor will teach you more. I have led you as far as is yet possible in your present weakness, but he shall lead you farther. I have guided you into some truth, but he will, guide you into all truth." And this is what he says in the words, "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot hear them now. Howbeit, when he the Spirit of Truth is come he will guide you into all truth."

Many regard the Holy Spirit as simply the moral influence of Jesus which remains in the world after his departure. But how feeble is the posthumous influence of even the greatest man compared with his personal presence! The echo can add no single syllable to the voice that creates it; the influence can, by no possibility, be greater than the man who exerted it. But we hear Jesus saying to his disciples, "When I am gone and the Spirit is come, greater works than I have done shall ye do; and further into the truth than I have brought you shall ye be led." Can it be that this augmented power is but the momentum of his influence increasing after his departure? Can it be that this larger teaching is but the multiplying echo of his voice after he has ceased to speak on earth?

Napoleon is said to have uttered this prediction before his death, “When I am gone, my spirit shall come back to France to throb with ceaseless life in new revolutions.” His spirit did come back in the sense of his personal influence, and its inspiration was more or less felt in European politics in subsequent years. But how very small is the posthumous influence compared with the living man who shook all Europe by his giant tread. And how inevitably has that influence waned from year to year.

But Christ said, “When I am gone, the Spirit of Truth shall come, whom I will send unto you.” That Spirit came. The church became filled and energized with his presence, and instead of being feebler than before, now commences her mightiest conquests; now dim apprehensions of truth give way to clear and vivid knowledge; doubts succumb to doctrine, and fears to faith. The disciples are utterly transformed. John, who in carnal blindness would call down fire from heaven on his enemies, now glows like a seraph with the fire of love, writing, "God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and God in him." And Peter, who before seemed so amazed and bewildered at every mention of his Master's death, now makes that strongest of all statements of the doctrine of atonement, “Who his own self bore our sins in his own body on the tree.”

When I read Christ's predictions in regard to the Spirit that should come, and when I read in the Acts of the Apostles what happened after he had come, the impression is inevitable in my mind that there is an invisible divine presence tilling the church and making it no less than a second incarnation of God through the Spirit. Looking at Jesus Christ, Paul exclaims, “Great is the mystery of Godliness, God manifest in the flesh." And looking at Paul and his companions casting out devils, healing the sick, and preaching the Word, who has not exclaimed to himself, "Great is the mystery of Christliness; Jesus manifested in the person of his disciples." "In whom ye also are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit."

I have referred to the words "another advocate" as used in the text. Christ, in using this phrase, not only puts the Spirit on a level with himself, and in the place of himself, but makes him a co-partner with himself in the work of regeneration and salvation. As in a law partnership there is often a counsellor and an advocate—the one to advise in the office, the other to plead in court; so in the divine co-partnership between Christ and the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the earthly advocate, counselling in the heart of man. Christ is the heavenly advocate, pleading in the court of heaven. There must be a good case on earth in order that there may be a successful issue in heaven. And so we are told of the indwelling Spirit that "he helpeth our infirmities since we know not what we should pray for as we ought, and maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God." Then the prayer which has been wrought within us according to the divine will, Christ takes up and pleads before the throne for us, "seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for us."

Does the heart need comforting and enlightening, that "other advocate" searches its depths and voices its unutterable longings, and then the heavenly advocate prolongs and presses its suit before the Judge in heaven? Oh, blessed and unfailing advocacy! How can our case with such defendants be lost? “It is Satan's highest art,” says John Bunyan, “to get us to take our cases into some lower court, knowing that he can never non-suit us in the court of heaven with such counsellors." God grant that in all the convictions of an accusing con­science we may have the wisdom to appeal to that court where the Lord Jesus has gone to appear for us.

Now what a testimony to the Divine personality of the Spirit is found in the very fact of such a partnership as this: Think you that in those sublime doxologies which are found in almost every epistle "to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost," it is a mere impersonal influence which is thus linked up into co-equal fellowship with God and Christ. And in that passage in the Ephesians where the whole Trinity is mentioned in a single sweep of thought, "Through him we all have access by one Spirit unto the Father," think you that it is only some mys­terious breath or impression that is thus made partner with God and the Son of God ? Oh, Holy Spirit, since our fellowship also is with the Father and with the Son, so lift us into the lofty plane of thy communion with God that we may never be so irreverent as to drag thee down to the plane of our earthly and finite fellowship! So near to Christ is the Holy Ghost, and yet so near, blessed be God, to us.

Nothing in the New Testament so impresses me at once with the infallible deity of the Spirit, and with his familiar and tender fellowship with man, as that single phrase in the Acts of the Apostles, "It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and us." The first serious controversy and dissension had arisen in the church. Had Christ been present, how quickly they would have sought him out for his advice and counsel. But he had gone into heaven to be their advocate. Yet that other advocate whom he had promised had come. And so real and personal was his presence to the disciples, so plain and decisive was his counsel to them, that they could say with all the positiveness of a client returning from a Conference with his lawyer, "It seemed good to my counsellor and myself to do thus." Oh, that we knew such communion with the Spirit, and had such sensible manifestations of his mind, that instead of saying so often, "It seemed good to us," we might say, "It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us.”

2. The text teaches also the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church. “That he may abide with you forever” or, “for the age”, as it is in the original. Christ went away after a few brief years on earth, and sent the Spirit to fill up the interregnum between his departure and his coming again in his kingdom. The earth is now the abode of the Spirit, just as truly as it was the abode of Christ daring his personal ministry. We have not now to pray for the Holy Spirit to descend, any more than the disciples had need to pray for Christ to descend while he was already with them. For these eighteen hundred years the Holy Ghost has been among men, convincing the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment; witnessing and interceding in the hearts of Christians; often sorely grieved by their sins, as the Master was; his admonitions often quenched, his testimony often rejected, his counsel often refused; yet always having somewhere a body of true believers where he could make his home.

This coming and abiding of the Holy Spirit in the world seems to me the most powerful testimony to God's loving and persistent determination to dwell with men, however rejected and driven away by their sins. Each of the three persons of the Trinity has in turn dwelt upon the earth. God walked with man in the garden, talked familiarly with patriarchs and prophets, and dwelt at last in the cloud of glory over the mercy-seat in the Temple. But he was driven away by man's sin. There was no cloud of glory in the latter days of the Temple. Jewish tradition has the strange story that that Sheckina-cloud moved slowly away from the Temple in the days of Jewish apostasy, and for three years and a half hung over the brow of Olivet, waiting in vain for the nation to repent, and then disappeared. It is probably but a legend, but it is a striking prophecy, at least.

Now Christ, the second person of the Godhead, comes. "The Word was made flesh and tabernacled among us," says John. For three and a half years of his public ministry he pleaded with the people, only to be despised and rejected of men, till at last, turning to the Temple, he said, "Behold! Your house is left unto you desolate;" and through the path of the cross, the resurrection and the ascension, he also went away. Then came the Holy Spirit—not to inhabit the temple on Mount Zion, but to dwell in a redeemed and regenerated church of living men. "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the spirit of God dwelleth in you?”

Do you wish to know where Christ is now? Without the slightest question I answer you that he is in the temple of God in heaven, in the presence of the Father. Do you wish to know where the Holy Spirit is? With equal assurance I answer that he is in "the temple of God" on earth. "Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost that is in you?" Be terribly afraid, then, of the lusts that tarnish and defile this temple; drive out with the scourge of self-denial the avarice that would turn this temple into a house of merchandise, "for the temple of God is holy, which temple are ye."

This fact of the present, personal abiding of the Holy Spirit upon the earth cannot be too strongly emphasized. There is danger that we grieve this present Spirit by the unbelief that counts him absent. To forget an absent friend is a serious slight; but to forget a present friend, and be so little sensible of his nearness that we put him afar off in our thoughts, is a most grievous affront. The sin of the Jews was that they "knew not the day of their visitation," and looked and prayed for a Messiah yet to come, instead of believing on the Messiah that had come. With a telescopic faith they gazed on for the star of Balaam, saying: "I shall see him, but not now; I shall behold him, but not nigh. There shall come forth a star out of Jacob," and only a humble few had the simple faith to behold the Star of Bethlehem, already risen, and to follow where it led. Oh, the sin which puts God afar off, and cries, “Who shall ascend up into heaven to bring Christ down?" when the Word is nigh us, even in our mouth! So many pray for the Spirit now, calling to him beyond the stars to come down to us—as though we knew not that he had been here for eighteen hundred years.

I sometimes think that if Christ were to speak to us from the heavens, it would be to repeat to us concerning the Spirit what he once said concerning himself, "There standeth one among you that ye know not." The Spirit is here, and it is for us to open our hearts to give him entrance. Air only needs a vacuum to secure its swift and rushing presence. And the most prevailing prayer for the Spirit is a heart vacant of selfish idols. We need not and cannot repeat the day of Pentecost; for on that day the Spirit came down, never to return till this dispensation shall end. But the waiting and praying of Pentecost we have need constantly to repeat. And if we might but open to him a heart utterly empty of sin, the Spirit would come into us like "a rushing, mighty wind," and we should know the meaning of these words, "being filled with the Holy Ghost."

I have said that the Holy Ghost is given to abide on earth during the present dispensation, or till the return of Christ to the world. And how striking it is that all the ordinances and instruments through which the Spirit works are limited to precisely the same era. The Word of God is the instrument through which the Spirit regenerates and sanctifies. And how long does the office of the Word continue? "We have also a more sure word of prophecy whereunto ye do well that ye take heed as unto a light that shineth in a dark place until the day dawn and the day-star arise."

The ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper are the agencies, in connection with the Word, for confession and sanctification. And how long do they continue their ministry in the church. "Even unto the end of the age" are the solemn words with which our baptismal commission ends. "Until he come, is the refrain with which the commandment to observe the Supper closes. Thus ordinances that point to the absent Christ testify of the present Spirit. They tell of Christ's return by the limit which is put to their continuance. The Spirit, the Word and the ordinances are the moon and stars that are to light our midnight journey till Christ, the Star of Day, shall once more arise upon the earth. God grant that in memory of that Sun now set, and in hope of that Star to arise again, we never forget the lesser lights that rule the night.

Oh, Holy Spirit, help us to receive thee in the fullness of thine indwelling; to pray ever under the power of thy prevailing intercession; to walk according to thy holy guidance; to live in the power of thine endless life. Oh Holy Spirit, open hearts that are yet closed to thy presence; convince of sin those who are saying to themselves "we have no sin;" convince of righteousness those who are trusting in their vain self-righteousness; and convince of judgment those who know not that by Christ's death the prince of this world is cast out, and "there is now therefore no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus."