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The Ministry of the Spirit By A. J. Gordon Characters: 19864

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

"For the Holy Ghost was not yet," is the more than surprising saying of Jesus when speaking of "the Spirit which they that believe on him should receive." Had not the Spirit been seen descending upon Jesus like a dove at his baptism, and remaining on him? Had he not been the divine agent in creation, and in the illumination and inspiration of the patriarchs and prophets and seers of the old dispensation? How then could Jesus say that he "was not yet given," as the words read in our Common version? The answer to this question furnishes our best point of departure for an intelligent study of the doctrine of the Spirit. Augustine calls the day of Pentecost the "dies natalis" of the Holy Ghost; and for the same reason that the day when Mary "brought forth her first-born son" we name "the birthday of Jesus Christ." Yet Jesus had existed before he lay in the cradle at Bethlehem; he was "in the beginning with God"; he was the agent in creation. By him all things were. But on the day of his birth he became incarnate, that in the flesh he might fulfill his great {20} ministry as the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, manifesting God to men, and making himself an offering for the sins of the world. Not until after his birth in Bethlehem was Jesus in the world in his official capacity, in his divine ministry as mediator between man and God; and so not till after the day of Pentecost was the Holy Spirit in the world in his official sphere, as mediator between men and Christ. In the following senses then is Augustine's saying true, which calls Pentecost "the birthday of the Spirit":

1. The Holy Spirit, from that time on, took up his residence on earth. The Christian church throughout all this dispensation is the home of the Spirit as truly as heaven, during this same period, is the home of Jesus Christ. This is according to that sublime word of Jesus, called by one "the highest promise which can be made to man": "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). This promise was fulfilled at Pentecost, and the first two Persons of the Godhead now hold residence in the church through the Third. The Holy Spirit during the present time is in office on earth; and all spiritual presence and divine communion of the Trinity with men are through him. In other words, while the Father and the Son are visibly and personally in heaven, they are invisibly here in the {21} body of the faithful by the indwelling of the Comforter. So that though we affirm that on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came to dwell upon earth for this entire dispensation, we do not imply that he thereby ceased to be in heaven. Not with God, as with finite man, does arrival in one place necessitate withdrawal from another. Jesus uttered a saying concerning himself so mysterious and seemingly contradictory that many attempts have been made to explain away its literal and obvious meaning: "And no man hath ascended up to heaven but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man who is in heaven"-Christ on earth, and yet in glory; here and there, at the same time, just as a thought which we embody in speech and send forth from the mind, yet remains in the mind as really and distinctly as before it was expressed. Why should this saying concerning our divine Lord seem incredible? And as with the Son, so with the Spirit. The Holy Ghost is here, abiding perpetually in the church; and he is likewise there, in communion with the Father and the Son from whom he proceeds, and from whom, as co-equal partner in the Godhead, he can never be separated any more than the sunbeam can be dissociated from the sun in which it has its source.

2. Again: The Holy Spirit, in a mystical but very real sense, became embodied in the church on the day of Pentecost. Not that we would by any {22} means put this embodiment on the same plane with the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity. When "the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us," it was God entering into union with sinless humanity; here it is the Holy Spirit uniting himself with the church in its imperfect and militant condition. Nevertheless, it is according to literal Scripture that the body of the faithful is indwelt by the divine Spirit. In this fact we have the distinguishing peculiarity of the present dispensation. "For he dwelleth with you and shall be in you!" said Jesus, speaking anticipatively of the coming of the Comforter; and so truly was this prediction fulfilled that ever after the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit is spoken of as being in the church. "If so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you" is the inspired assumption on which the deep teaching in Romans eighth proceeds. All the recognition and deference which the disciples paid to their Lord they now pay to the Holy Spirit, his true vicar, his invisible self, present in the body of believers. How artlessly and naturally this comes out in the findings of the first council at Jerusalem: "It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us" runs the record; as though it had been said: "Peter and James and Barnabas and Saul and the rest were present, and also just as truly was the Holy Ghost."

And when the first capital sin was committed in the church, in the conspiracy and falsehood {23} of Ananias and Sapphira, Peter's question is: "Why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost?" "How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Holy Ghost?" Not only is the personal presence of the Spirit in the body of believers thus distinctly recognized, but he is there in authority and supremacy, as the center of the assembly. "Incarnated in the church!" do we say? We get this conception by comparing together the inspired characterizations of Christ and of the church. "This temple" was the name which he gave to his own divine person, greatly to the scandal and indignation of the Jews; and the evangelist explains to us that "he spoke of the temple of his body." A metaphor, a type! do we say? No! He said so because it was so. "The Word was made flesh and tabernacled among us, and we beheld his glory" (John 1: 14). This is temple imagery. "Tabernacled" (eschên?sen) is the word used in Scripture for the dwelling of God with men; and the temple is God's dwelling-place. The "glory" harmonizes with the same idea. As the Shechinah cloud rested above the mercy-seat, the symbol and sign of God's presence, so from the Holy of Holies of our blessed Lord's heart did the glory of God shine forth, "the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth," certifying him to be the veritable temple of the Most High.

After his ascension and the sending down of the {24} Spirit, the church takes the name her Lord had borne before; she is the temple of God, and the only temple which he has on earth during the present dispensation. "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" asks the apostle. This he speaks to the church in its corporate capacity. "A holy temple in the Lord, in whom ye also are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit," is the sublime description in the Epistle to the Ephesians. It is enough that we now emphasize the fact that the same language is here applied to the church which Christ applies to himself. As with the Head, so with the mystical body; each is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and thus is God in some sense incarnated in both; and for the same reason. Christ was "the Image of the Invisible God"; and when he stood before men in the flesh he could say to them, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." Not otherwise than through the incarnation, so far as we know, could the unknown God become known, and the unseen God become seen. So, after Christ had returned to the Father, and the world saw him no more, he sent the Paraclete to be incarnated in his mystical body, the church. As the Father revealed himself through the Son, so the Son by the Holy Spirit now reveals himself through the church; as Christ was the image of the invisible God, so the church is appointed to be {25} the image of the invisible Christ; and his members, when they are glorified with him, shall be the express image of his person.

This then is the mystery and the glory of this dispensation; not less true because mysterious; not less practical because glorious. In an admirable work on the Spirit, the distinction between the former and the present relation of the Spirit is thus stated: "In the old dispensation the Holy Spirit wrought upon believers, but did not in his person dwell in believers and abide permanently in them. He appeared unto men; he did not incarnate himself in man. His action was intermittent; he went and came like the dove which Noah sent forth from the ark, and which went to and fro, finding no rest; while in the new dispensation he dwells, he abides in the heart as the dove, his emblem, which John saw descending and alighting on the head of Jesus. Affianced of the soul, the Spirit went oft to see his betrothed, but was not yet one with her; the marriage was not consummated until the Pentecost, after the glorification of Jesus Christ."[1]

3. A still more obvious reason why before the day of Pentecost it could be said that "the Holy Ghost was not yet," is contained in the words, "Because that Jesus was not yet glorified." In the order of the unfolding ages we see each of the persons of the Godhead in turn exercising an earthly {26} ministry and dealing with man in the work of redemption. Under the law, God the Father comes down to earth and speaks to men from the cloud of Sinai and from the glory above the mercy-seat; under grace, God the Son is in the world, teaching, suffering, dying, and rising again; under the dispensation of election and out-gathering now going on, the Holy Spirit is here carrying on t

he work of renewing and sanctifying the church, which is the body of Christ. There is a necessary succession in these Divine ministries, both in time and in character. In the days of Moses it might have been said: "Christ is not yet," because the economy of God-Jehovah was not completed. The law must first be given, with its sacrifices and types and ceremonies and shadows; man must be put on trial under the law, till the appointed time of his schooling should be completed. Then must Christ come to fulfill all types and terminate all sacrifices in himself; to do for us "what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh," and to become "the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." When in turn Christ had completed his redemption-work by dying on the cross for our sins, and rising again from the dead for our justification, and had taken his place at God's right hand for perpetual intercession, then the Holy Ghost came down to communicate and realize to the church the finished work of Christ. {27} In a word, as God the Son fulfills to men the work of God the Father, so God the Holy Ghost realizes to human hearts the work of God the Son.

There is a holy deference, if we may so say, between the Persons of the Trinity in regard to their respective ministries. When Christ was in office on earth, the Father commends us to him, speaking from heaven and saying: "This is my beloved Son, hear ye him"; when the Holy Ghost had entered upon his earthly office, Christ commends us to him, speaking again from heaven with sevenfold reiteration, saying: "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches."[2] As each Person refers us to the teaching of the other, so in like manner does each in turn consummate the ministry of the other. Christ's words and works were not his own, but his Father's: "The words which I speak unto you I speak not of myself, but the Father that dwelleth in me he doeth the works."[3] The Spirit's teaching and communications are not his own, but Christ's: "Howbeit when he the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth; for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear that shall he speak; and he will show you things to come." "He shall glorify me; for he shall receive of mine and show it unto you."

This order in the ministries of the Persons of {28} the Godhead is so fixed and eternal that we find it distinctly foreshadowed even in the typical teaching of the Old Testament. Many speak slightingly of the types, but they are as accurate as mathematics; they fix the sequence of events in redemption as rigidly as the order of sunrise and noontide is fixed in the heavens. Nowhere in tabernacle or in temple, shall we ever find the laver placed before the altar. The altar is Calvary and the laver is Pentecost; one stands for the sacrificial blood, the other for the sanctifying Spirit. If any high priest were ignorantly to approach the brazen laver without first having come to the brazen altar, we might expect a rebuking voice to be heard from heaven: "Not yet the washing of water"; and such a saying would signify exactly the same as: "Not yet the Holy Ghost."

Again, when the leper was to be cleansed, observe that the blood was to be put upon the tip of his right ear, the thumb of his right hand, and the great toe of his right foot; and then the oil was to be put upon the right ear, the right thumb, and the right foot-the oil upon the blood of the trespass-offering (Lev. 14). Never, we venture to say, in all the manifold repetitions of this divine ceremony, was this order once inverted, so that the oil was first applied, and then the blood; which means, interpreting type into antitype, that it was impossible that Pentecost could have preceded Calvary, or {29} that the outpouring of the Spirit should have anticipated the shedding of the blood.

Then let us reflect, that not only the order of these two great events of redemption was fixed from the beginning, but their dates were marked in the calendar of typical time. The slaying of the paschal lamb told to generation after generation, though they knew it not, the day of the year and week on which Christ our Passover should be sacrificed for us. The presentation of the wave sheaf before the Lord, "on the morrow after the Sabbath"[1] had for long centuries fixed the time of our Lord's resurrection on the first day of the week. And the command to "count from the morrow after the Sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering, seven Sabbaths,"[4] determined the day of Pentecost as the time of the descent of the Spirit. We sometimes think of the disciples waiting for an indefinite period in that upper room for the fulfillment of the promise of the Father; but the time had been fixed not only with God in eternity, but in the calendar of the Hebrew ritual upon earth. They tarried in prayer for ten days, simply because after the forty days of the Lord's sojourn on earth subsequent to his resurrection, ten days remained of the "seven Sabbaths" period.

To sum up what we are saying: The Spirit of God is the successor of the Son of God in his {30} official ministry on earth. Until Christ's earthly work for his church had been finished, the Spirit's work in this world could not properly begin. The office of the Holy Ghost is to communicate Christ to us-Christ in his entireness. However perfectly the photographer's plate has been prepared, there can be no picture until his subject steps into his place and stands before him. Our Saviour's redemptive work was not completed when he died on the cross, or when he rose from the dead, or even when he ascended from the brow of Olivet. Not until he sat down in his Father's throne, summing up all his ministry in himself,-"I am he that liveth and was dead, and behold I am alive forevermore,"-did the full Christ stand ready to be communicated to his church.[5] By the first Adam's sin, God's communion with man through the Holy Ghost was broken, and their union ruptured. When the second Adam came up from his cross and resurrection, and took his place at God's right hand, there was a restoration of this broken fellowship. Very beautiful are {31} the words of our risen Lord as bearing on this point: "I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God."[6] The place which the divine Son had won for himself in the Father's heart, he had won for us also. All of acceptance and standing and privilege which was now his, was ours too, by redemptive right; and the Holy Ghost is sent down to confirm and realize to us what he had won for us. Without the expiatory work of Christ for us, the sanctifying work of the Spirit in us were impossible; and on the other hand, without the work of the Spirit within us, the work of Christ for us were without avail.

"And when the day of Pentecost was fully come." What these words mean historically, typically, and doctrinally, we are now prepared to see. The true wave sheaf had been presented in the temple on high. Christ the first-fruits, brought from the grave on "the morrow after the Sabbath," or the first day of the week, now stands before God accepted on our behalf; the seven Sabbaths from the resurrection day have been counted, and Pentecost has come. Then suddenly, to those who were "all of one accord in one place," "there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all {32} the house where they were sitting, and there appeared unto them cloven tongues, like as of fire, and sat upon each of them, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost." As the manger of Bethlehem was the cradle of the Son of God, so was the upper room the cradle of the Spirit of God; as the advent of "the Holy Child" was a testimony that God had "visited and redeemed his people," so was the coming of the Holy Ghost. The fact that the Comforter is here, is proof that the Advocate is there in the presence of the Father. Boldly Peter and the other apostles now confront the rulers with their testimony, "Whom ye slew and hanged on a tree . . . Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins; and we are his witnesses of these things; and so also is the Holy Ghost, whom God, hath given to them that obey him." As the sound of the golden bells upon the high priest's garments within the Holiest gave evidence that he was alive, so the sound of the Holy Ghost, proceeding from heaven and heard in that upper chamber, was an incontestable witness that the great High Priest whom they had just seen passing through the cloud-curtain, entering within the veil, was still living for them in the presence of the Father. Thus has the "dies natalis," the birthday of the Holy Spirit, come; and the events of his earthly mission will now be considered in their order.

[1] "The Work of the Holy Spirit in Man," by Pastor Tophel, p. 32.

[2] See epistles to the seven churches: Rev 2: 11.

[3] John 14: 10.

[4] Lev. 23: 11-16.

[5] "Christ having reached his goal, and not till then, bequeathes to his followers the graces that invested his earthly course; the ascending Elijah leaves his mantle behind him. It is only an extension of the same principle, that the declared office of the Holy Spirit being to complete the image of Christ in every faithful follower by effecting in this world a spiritual death and resurrection,-a point attested in every epistle,-the image could not be stamped until the reality had been wholly accomplished; the Divine Artist could not fitly descend to make the copy before the entire original had been provided."-Archer Butler.

[6] John 20: 17. "Because though he and the Father are one, and the Father his Father by the propriety of nature, to us God became a Father through the Son, not by right of nature, but by grace."-Ambrose.


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