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The Ministry of the Spirit By A. J. Gordon Characters: 22696

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

The Son of God was named by the angel before he was conceived in the womb: "Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins." Thus he came, not to receive a name, but to fulfill a name already predetermined for him. In like manner was the Holy Ghost named by our Lord before his advent into the world: "But when the Paraclete is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father" (John 15: 26). This designation of the Holy Spirit here occurs for the first time-a new name for the new ministry upon which he is now about to enter. The reader will find in almost any critical commentary discussions of the meaning of the word, and of the question of its right translation, whether by "Comforter," or "Advocate," or "Teacher," or "Helper." But the question cannot be fully settled by an appeal to classical or patristic Greek, for the reason, we believe, that it is a divinely given name whose real significance must be made manifest in the actual life and history of the Spirit. The name is the person himself, and only as we know the person can we interpret his name. Why {36} attempt then to translate this word any more than we do the name of Jesus? We might well transfer it into our English version, leaving the history of the church from the Acts of the Apostles to the experience of the latest saint to fill into it the great significance which it was intended to contain. Certain it is that the language of the Holy Ghost can never be fully understood by an appeal to the lexicon. The heart of the church is the best dictionary of the Spirit. While all the before-mentioned synonyms are correct, neither one is adequate, nor are all together sufficient to bring out the full significance of this great name, "The Paraclete."

Let us consider, however, how much is suggested by the literal meaning of this word, "the Paracletos" and by all that our Lord says concerning him in his last discourse. "To call to one's aid," is the meaning of the verb, parachale?, from which the name is derived. Very beautiful therefore is the word in its application to the disciples of Christ at the time when the Spirit was given. They had lost the visible presence of their Lord. The sorrow of his removal from them through the cross and the sepulchre had after three days been turned into joy by his resurrection. But now another separation had come, in his departure to the Father after the cloud had received him out of sight. In this last and longer bereavement, what should they do? Their beloved Master had told them beforehand {37} what to do. They were to call upon the Father to send them One to fill the vacant place, and he who should be sent would be the "Paraclete," the "one called to their help."[1]

But what deep questionings must have arisen in their hearts as they heard the Saviour's promise: "If I go not away the Paraclete will not come unto you; but if I depart I will send him unto you." Did they begin to ask whether the mysterious comer would be a "person"? Impossible to imagine. For he was to take the place of that greatest of persons; to do for them even greater things than he had done; and to lead them into even larger knowledge than he had imparted. The discussion of the personality of the Holy Ghost is so unnatural in the light of Christ's last discourse that we studiously avoid it. Let us treat the question, therefore, from the point of view of Christ's own words, and try to put ourselves under the impression which they make upon us. To state the matter as simply and familiarly as possible: Jesus is about to vacate his office on earth as teacher and prophet; but before doing so he would introduce us to his successor. As in a complex problem we seek to determine an unknown quantity by the known, so in this paschal discourse Jesus {38} aims to make us acquainted with the mysterious, invisible coming personage whom he names the "Paraclete" by comparing him with himself, the known and the visible one. Collating his comparisons we may find in them several groups of seeming contradictions, and just such contradictions as we should expect if this comer is indeed a person of the Godhead. Of the coming Paraclete then we find these intimations.[2]

1. He is another, yet the same: "And I will pray the Father and he shall give you another Comforter" (John 14: 16). By the use of this expression "another" our Lord distinguishes the Paraclete from himself, but he also puts him on the same plane with himself. For there is no parity or even comparison between a person and an influence. If the promised visitor were to be only an impersonal emanation from God, it would seem impossible that our Lord should have so co-ordinated him with himself as to say: "I go to be an Advocate for you in heaven (1 John 2: 1), and I send another to be an Advocate for you on earth."


But if Christ thus distinguishes the Comforter from himself, he also identifies him with himself: "I will not leave you orphans: I will come to you" (John 14: 18). By common consent this promise refers to the advent of the Spirit, for so the connection plainly indicates. And yet almost in the same breath he says: "The Comforter whom I will send unto you" (John 14: 26). Thus our Lord makes the same event to be at once his coming and his sending; and he speaks of the Spirit now as his own presence, and now as his substitute during his absence. So what must we conclude but that the Paraclete is Christ's other self, a third Person in that blessed Trinity of which he is the second.

2. The Paraclete is subordinate yet superior in his ministry to the church. "For he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear that shall he speak. He shall glorify me; for he shall receive of mine and show it unto you" (John 16: 13).

Well may we mark the holy deference between the persons of the Trinity which is here pointed out. Each receives from another what he communicates, and each magnifies another in his praises. As Bengel concisely states it: "The Son glorifies the Father; the Spirit glorifies the Son." What then is the office of the Holy Ghost, so far as we can interpret it, but that of communicating and applying the work of Christ to human hearts? If he convinces of sin it is by exhibiting the {40} gracious redemptive work of the Saviour and showing men their guilt in not believing on him. If he witnesses to the penitent of his acceptance it is by testifying of the atoning blood of Jesus in which that acceptance is grounded; if he regenerates and sanctifies the heart it is by communicating to it the life of the risen Lord. Christ is "all" in himself, and through the Spirit "in all" those whom the Spirit renews. This reverent subjection of the earthly Comforter to the heavenly Christ contains a deep lesson for those who are indwelt by the Spirit[3] and makes them rejoice evermore to be witnesses rather than originators.

With this subordination of the Holy Spirit to Christ, how is it yet true that such a great advantage was to accrue to the church by the departure of the Saviour and the consequent advent of the Spirit to take his place? That it would be so is what is plainly affirmed in the following text: "Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart I will send him unto you" (John 16: 7). If the Spirit is simply the measure of the Son, his sole work being to communicate the work of the Son, what gain could there be in the departure of the one in order to {41} the coming of the other? Would it not be simply the exchange of Christ for Christ?-his visible presence for his invisible?

To us the answer of this question is most obvious. It was not the earthly Christ whom the Holy Ghost was to communicate to the church, but the heavenly Christ,-the Christ re-invested with his eternal power, re-clothed with the glory which he had with the Father before the world was, and re-endowed with the infinite treasures of grace which he had purchased by his death on the cross. It is as though-to use a very inadequate illustration-a beloved father were to say to his family: "My children, I have provided well for your needs; but your condition is one of poverty compared with what it may become. By the death of a kinsman in my native country I have become heir to an immense estate. If you will only submit cheerfully to my leaving you and crossing the sea, and entering into my inheritance, I will send you back a thousand times more than you could have by my remaining with you." Only in the instance we are considering, Christ is the "testator" as well as the heir. By his death the inheritance becomes available, and when he had ascended into heaven he sent down the Holy Spirit to distribute the estate among those who were joint heirs with him. What this estate is, may be best summarized in two beautiful expressions of frequent recurrence in the {42} epistles of Paul, "The riches of his grace" (Eph. 1: 7), and "The riches of his glory" (Eph. 3: 16). On the cross "the riches of his grace" was secured to us in the forgiveness of sins; on the throne "the riches of his glory" was secured to us in our being strengthened with all might by his Spirit in the inner man; in the indwelling of Christ in our hearts by faith, and in our infilling with all the fullness of God. The divine wealth only becomes completely available on the death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord; so that the Holy Spirit, the divine Conveyancer, had not the full inheritance to convey till Jesus was glorified.

Observe therefore, in the valedictory discourse of our Lord, the frequent recurrence of the words: "Because I go to the Father," one of the sayings which greatly perplexed his disciples. In the light of all which Jesus says in this connection, let us see if its meaning may not be clear to us. "If ye loved me ye would rejoice because I go unto the Father; for the Father is greater than I" (John 14: 28), he says in the same connection. We cannot here enter into the deep question of the kenosis, or self-emptying of the Son of God in his incarnation. It is enough that we follow the plain teaching of the Scripture, that though "being in the form of God, he counted it not a thing to be grasped to be on an equality with God; but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant" (Phil. 2: {43} 6, 7, R. V.). What now does his going to the Father signify but a refilling with that of which he had been emptied, or a resumption of his co-equality with God? The greater blessing which he could confer upon his church by his departure seems to lie in the fact of the greater power and glory into which he would enter by his enthronement at God's right hand. As Luther pointedly puts it: "Therefore do I go, he saith, where I shall be greater than I now am, that is, to the Father, and it is better that I shall pass out of this obscurity and weakness into the power and glory in which the Father is." In the light of this interpretation the meaning of our Lord's words above quoted does not seem difficult. The Paraclete was to communicate Christ to his church,-his life, his power, his riches, his glory. In his exaltation all these were to be very greatly increased. "All things that the Father hath are mine" (John 16: 15), he says. And though

he had for a time voluntarily disinherited himself of his heavenly possessions, he is now to be repossessed of them. "Therefore said I, that he shall take of mine and shall show it unto you" (16: 15). Christ at God's right hand will have more to give than while on earth; therefore the church will have more to receive through the Paraclete than through the visible Christ. What obvious significance then do the following sayings from this farewell sermon of Jesus have: "Verily {44} verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me the works that I do shall he do also; greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto the Father" (John 14: 12). The earthly Christ is equal only to himself thus conditioned; and if the Holy Spirit shall communicate his power to his disciples, they will do the same works that he does. But the heavenly Christ is co-equal with the Father, therefore when he shall ascend to the Father, and the Spirit shall take of his and communicate to his church, it will do greater works than these. The stream of life, in other words, will have greater power because of the higher source from which it proceeds. Very deep are the mysteries here considered, and we can only speak of them in the light which we get by comparing Scripture with Scripture. Did the risen Christ breathe on his disciples and say to them: "Receive ye the Holy Ghost"?[4] "It is enough, Lord, that we have received the Spirit from thee," they might well have said. Yet it was not enough for him to give; for looking on to the day of his enthronement, he says: "But when the Paraclete is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me" (John 15: 26). When Jesus hath ascended "on high," then can the {45} Holy Ghost communicate "the power from on high." Therefore it is expedient that he go away.

As with the power which Christ was to impart to his church through the Paraclete, so with the righteousness which he was both to impute and to impart; its highest source must be found in heaven: "And when he, the Comforter, is come, he will convince the world of righteousness; . . . of righteousness because I go to my father, and ye see me no more" (John 16: 8-10). We may say truly that the righteousness of Christ was not completely finished and authenticated till he sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high. By his death he perfectly satisfied the claims of a violated law, but this fact was not attested until the grave gave back the certificate of discharge in his released and risen body. By his resurrection he was "declared to be the Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of holiness" (Rom. 1: 4). But the fact was not fully verified till God had "set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named" (Eph. 1: 20, 2l). Now in his consummated glory he is prepared to be "made wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption" to his people. He who had been "manifest in the flesh" that he might be made sin for us, was now "justified in the Spirit" and "received up into glory," that he might be made {46} righteousness to us, and that "we might be made the righteousness of God in him." Christ's coronation, in a word, is the indispensable condition to our justification. Till he who was made a curse for us is crowned with glory and honor we cannot be assured of our acceptance with the Father.[5] How deep the current of thought which flows through this narrow channel-"Because I go to the Father."

3. The Paraclete teaches only the things of Christ; yet teaches more than Christ taught: "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all the truth" (John 16: 12, 13). It is as though he had said: "I have brought you a little way in the knowledge of my doctrine; he shall bring you all the way." One reason for this saying seems plain: The teaching of Jesus during his earthly ministry waited to be illumined by a light not risen-the light of the cross, the light of the sepulchre, the light of the ascension. Therefore until these events had come to pass, Christian doctrine was undeveloped, and could not be fully communicated to the disciples of Christ. But this is not all. The "because I go to the Father" still gives the key to our Lord's meaning. "But what things {47} soever he shall hear, these shall he speak, and he shall declare unto you things to come" (John 16: 13, R. V.). Very wonderful is this hint of the mutual converse of the Godhead, so that the Paraclete is described as listening while he leads, as having an ear in heaven attentive to the converse of the Father and the glorified Son, while he extends an unseen guidance to the flock on earth, communicating to them what he has heard from the Father and the Son. And we may reverently ask, Has not the glorified Christ more of knowledge and revelation to communicate than he had in the days of his humiliation? Of "the things to come" has he not secrets to impart which hitherto may have been hidden in the counsels of the Father? To take a single illustration from the words of Christ. Speaking of his second advent, he says: "But of that day or that hour knoweth no one, not even the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father" (Mark 13: 32[6]). It is best that we should interpret these words frankly, and instead of saying, with some, that he did not know in the sense that he was not permitted to disclose, admit it possible that while in his humiliation and under the veil of his incarnation, this secret was hidden from his eyes.

But is it not presumptuous for us to reason, that {48} therefore he does not now know the day of his coming? How constantly is that text quoted as a decisive and final prohibition of all inquiry into the proximate time of our Lord's return in glory. But they who so use this saying simply remand us to the childhood of the church, to the spiritual nonage of the ante-Pentecostal days. Have we forgotten that since our Lord ascended to the Father he has given us a further revelation, that wondrous book of the Apocalypse, which opens and closes with a beatitude upon those who read and faithfully keep the words of this prophecy? And one characteristic feature of this book is its chronological predictions concerning the time of the end, its mystical dates, which have led many sober searchers of the word of God to inquire diligently "what and what manner of time" the Spirit did signify in giving us these way-marks in the wilderness. This being so, we may ask: If we are not irreverent in concluding with many devout expositors that our Saviour meant what he said in declaring that he did "not yet" know the time of his advent, are we presumptuous in taking literally the opening words of the Apocalypse?: "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants the things which must shortly come to pass." It was because of his going unto the Father that greater works and greater riches were to attend the church after Pentecost. Why may we not assign to the same {49} cause also the fuller revelation of the future and the leading into completer truth concerning the blessed hope of the church? In other words, if we may think of Christ as entering into larger revelation as he returns to the glory which he had with the Father must we not think of larger communications of truth by the blessed Paraclete?

Have we not learned something of the nature and offices of the Spirit by this study of his new name, and of all that the departing Lord says in the wondrous discourse wherein he introduces him to his disciples? At least the study should enable us to distinguish two inspired terms which have been needlessly confounded by not a few writers, viz.: the words "Paraclete," and "Parousia." The latter word, which constantly occurs in Scripture as describing our Lord's second coming, has been applied in several learned works to the advent of the Holy Spirit; and since Christ came in the person of the Spirit, it has been argued that the Redeemer's promised advent in glory has already taken place. But this is to confuse terms whose use in Scripture marks them as clearly distinct. Observe their difference: In the Paraclete, Christ comes spiritually and invisibly; in the Parousia, he comes bodily and gloriously. The advent of the Paraclete is really conditioned on the Saviour's personal departure from his people: "If I go not away the Paraclete will not come to you" (John 16: 7). {50} The Parousia, on the other hand, is only realized in his personal return to his people: "For what is our hope or joy or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?" (1 Thess. 2: 19.) The Paraclete attends the church in the days of her humiliation; the Parousia introduces the church into the day of her glory. In the Paraclete, Christ came to dwell with the church on earth: "I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you" (John 14: 18). In the Parousia, Christ comes to take the church to dwell with himself in glory: "I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am there ye may be also" (John 14: 3). Christ prayed on behalf of his bereaved church for the coming of this Paraclete: "And I will pray the Father and he shall give you another Paraclete." The Holy Spirit now prays with the pilgrim-church for the hastening of the Parousia. "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come" (Rev. 22: 17). These two can only be understood in their mutual relations. Christ, who gave the new name to the Holy Spirit, can best interpret that name to us by making us acquainted with himself. May that name be for us so real a symbol of personal presence that while strangers and pilgrims in the earth we may walk evermore "in the paraclesis of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 9:31).

[1] The word paraklêt?r is used in the Septuagint (Job 16:2) with the meaning of "Comforter," and the term paraklêtos occurs in the Talmud, signifying "Interpreter."

[2] The most obvious reason for concluding that the Holy Spirit is a person is that he performs actions and stands in relations which belong only to a person, e. g.: He speaks (Acts 1: 16); he works miracles (Acts 2: 4; 8: 39); he sets ministers over churches (Acts 20: 28); he commands and forbids (Acts 8: 29; 11: 12; 13: 2; 16: 6, 7); he prays for us (Rom. 8: 26); he witnesses (Rom. 8: 16); he can be grieved (Eph. 4: 30); he can be blasphemed (Mark 3: 29); he can be resisted (Acts 7: 51, etc).

[3] If the Holy Spirit may not speak of himself as preacher, how canst thou draw thy preaching out of thyself-out of thine head or even out of thine heart.-Pastor Gossner.

[4] Let it be observed that in this communication of the risen Christ it is not said, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost"-the article being significantly omitted-Labete Pneuma agion (John 20: 22).

[5] How righteous must he be, who will go to the Father from the cross and the grave! Thus will the Holy Spirit convince the world that he is a righteous man, and truly righteous for man.-Roos.

[6] "Neither the Son": "It is more than neither; it is not yet the Son," says Morrison the commentator.


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