When we say, “I believe in the Holy Ghost, it means, or should mean, that we understand the Holy Ghost to be a distinct person of the Godhead. This is the unmistakable teaching of God’s Word throughout.
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28. I Believe In The Holy Ghost
The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. … 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. And when He is come He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. — St. John 14:26; 16:7, 8.
The three most fundamental statements of all the fundamental statements of the Apostles’ Creed are these, I believe in God the Father almighty; … and in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord; … I believe in the Holy Ghost.” And, as you will remember, these brief statements are an expansion of the simple statement of the names of the three persons of the holy Trinity, in the baptismal formula out of which the Creed was gradually developed.
The first two of these elemental confessional statements we have considered. We now take up the final article of this statement of our faith. May the One of whom we are treating, the Spirit of truth, without whose presence and aid no spiritual truth can be rightly understood, or become operative in our lives, grant us His enlightening presence to guide us into the truth concerning Himself.
As the days of Christ’s visible sojourn with his disciples began to draw to a close, He began to give them promises of a nature to cheer and strengthen them. The Master knew the confused condition of their minds, the vacillating state of their souls. He knew the harrowing experiences through which they would have to pass, and the depressing effect it would have on them. To counteract all this, to stay their sinking spirits, to give them something as an anchor for hope when all seemed hopeless, Jesus tells them that it was really necessary for Him to go away; that by going away, as to His visible presence, He would send them One to take His place, to guide them into the truth, to give them a better understanding of Himself, His nature and His mission.
This promise was signally fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. What the coming of the Holy Spirit meant to the Apostles is known to all careful students of the Scriptures. What His presence means to the Church of God to this day is tersely set forth in this third article. For our introductory message, we will take as our subject the first sentence of this part of our confession.
I Believe in the Holy Ghost
Let us consider the content of our faith with respect to the person of the Holy Spirit. His work, and the means through which He works.
1. Who He Is
“I believe in the Holy Ghost.” This is our oft repeated confession. The first question to interest an inquiring mind to which a proposition of this kind is presented will naturally be, Who is the Holy Ghost? What is the nature of the One in whom we believe, or are ask to believe? Like the kindred problems of the First and Second Articles, this is a deep subject. No mere human mind can follow it very far without reaching depths no human wisdom can sound. But as with other subjects Divine, what needs to be known can be known, and pains should be taken to know it. This is not a matter of indifference. Just as those who have not Christ cannot truly have the Father, so those who have not the Holy Spirit have neither the Son nor the Father.
“I believe in the Holy Ghost. What mental images do these works call up? Or are they mere words which leave the mind shrouded in an impenetrable haze? No one can have read the Bible even casually, or attended the services of a Christian Church occasionally, or intermittently glanced at the literature of the Christian Church, without being familiar with the name Holy Ghost. We can scarcely conceive that today the merest hanger-on of the Christian Church would have to confess, with the disciples of Ephesus. “We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost” (Acts 19:2). But doubtless not a few professing Christians, if they were asked to tell what they know about the Holy Spirit, could put their fund of knowledge in very few words. And not a few of those who would speak volubly would show to informed hearers that they were drawing on their imagination, rather than from a certified source of knowledge. This condition ought not be true of any Christian, least of all should it be true of any Lutheran Christian; for from Childhood most of us have been carefully taught these truths. To have forgotten them is all the more culpable.
The word spirit is in quite general use. When we wish to set forth the dominating characteristics of a person, or the principles by which he is actuated, we speak of it as the spirit of the man. The tendencies which crop out in the life of an age, or a nation, is called the manifestation of its spirit. In defining the character or influence of a book, or the literature or art of a period, we call it the spirit which pervades it. We speak even of the spirit of nature. The life which pervades it, the effect it makes on us by its wonders and its beauties, these are often called its spirit. Not widely different, sometimes not at all different, are the ideas entertained respecting the Holy Spirit, His nature and operations. The influences made on us by the good and beautiful; the things which broaden, enlighten, uplift in a general way, this is the Holy Spirit, in their view. Quite distinct from this is the teaching of God’s Word with respect to the Holy Ghost.
When we say, “I believe in the Holy Ghost, it means, or should mean, that we understand the Holy Ghost to be a distinct person of the Godhead. This is the unmistakable teaching of God’s Word throughout. Wherever the names of the Godhead are conjoined, as, for instance, in the doxology, and in the baptismal formula, they are presented in such way that the only natural conclusion is that they are coequal members. Read carefully the statements of Christ concerning the Holy Spirit in St. John, chapters fourteen to sixteen. Notice how insistently and significantly He uses the personal pronoun in speaking of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Ghost He shall teach, He shall glorify, He shall convict. St. Paul, writing to the Ephesians, tells them not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God (Eph. 5:18). Grief cannot be felt by a breath, or influence; but only by a person. In the letter to the Corinthians, after enumerating the gifts bestowed by the Holy Spirit, the Apostle says: “All these worketh the self-same Spirit, distributing to every man severally as He will” (1 Cor. 12:11). Here, in addition to using the pronoun of person, the Apostle affirms of the Holy Spirit that He has the power of personal choice, of will. When the Church at Antioch was awaiting directions from on high as to her future activities, the Apostle tells us that it was told them by the Holy Ghost. “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them, so they being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed” (Acts 13:1—4). Here we have not only the same use of the personal pronoun; but the statement of the fact that the Holy Ghost has the right of decision in matters of great import to the Church. At the baptism of Jesus it was manifested to the natural senses of man that God exists in a threefold personality. The Father speaking audibly from heaven, Jesus and the Holy Spirit being present to sight.
Indeed, the Scriptures being our teacher, there can be no other conclusion than this that the Holy Ghost is co-equal to the Father and the Son as to His Godhead, and that as truly as they He exists in a separate person. In the Apostles’ Creed there is no express statement concerning the holy Trinity, but its very form is trinitarian, and at every step enlarges upon, and emphasis our faith in the essential oneness of God; and that in the oneness of essence there are three persons. All that can be affirmed of the Father as to His Godhead must be affirmed of Christ. All that can be affirmed of the Father and the Son as to Godhead must be affirmed of the Holy Ghost. They are all of the same substance; equal in wisdom, power, and glory. The Father eternal and unbegotten; the Son eternal, but begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit eternal, but proceeding from the Father and the Son.
2. His Work
“I believe in the Holy Ghost.” It means much to be able to say this in the sense in which we have so far outlined it, to know Him as one of the equal members of the family of the Deity; but this is not yet enough. As no one truly knows the Father till he knows Him in His relation to the universe, as his own creator and keeper; nor the Son of God till he knows Him as the Redeemer of the race, and His own personal Saviour, so no one truly knows the Holy Ghost till he knows His work, till he knows His work as it is revealed in God’s Word, and experienced in his own soul. Let us then, in the second place, consider the work of the Holy Ghost.
The work of the Holy Ghost was not unknown to the people of the Old Testament. They knew that He took part in the work of creation, that it was due to His power that kosmos came out of the original chaos, and that all was crowned with beauty and fruitfulness. We are told that in the times preceding the deluge, the Spirit of God was striving with men; to turn them from their wickedness, to incline them to God’s ways. During the centuries of God’s special covenant relation to Israel, the way of life was clarified for them by the words of law-givers, psalmists, prophets, and historians. The words of these men were beacon lights to show the way to heaven, and not only in those days, they are still aglow with Divine radiance to light men on the way to glory. Such a literature is to be accounted for, not by any mere human process of culture. Thus does the Word explain its origin, “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” It was the work of the Holy Spirit. In all that olden time the third person of the Holy Trinity had his full share in shaping and controlling the destinies of mankind.
It is, however, in New Testament times that the Holy Spirit has come, so to speak, into His own. The Gospel era, the time since the ascension of Jesus Christ, is, in a distinctive sense, the dispensation of the Holy Spirit. The Creed carries us right on into the distinctive sphere of the Holy Spirit’s operations, as well as names some of the results of these operations, when it says: “I believe in the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.” The Christian Church, not only in its birth on the day of Pentecost, but in every stage of its development since then, and every phase and feature of its many victories since that day, is the direct result of the presence and operation of the Holy Spirit. This has all been aptly and concisely set forth by Luther in his explanation of the Third Article. These words are so thoroughly scriptural, so intelligible, so fundamental to a right spiritual life, that having learned them, we should ever treasure them as a precious possession of mind and heart. Can we still all repeat them? Let us see: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith: even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all sins to me and all believers, and will at the last day raise up me and all the dead, and give unto me and all believers in Christ eternal life.” This is the specific work of the Holy Ghost. It has always been His particular work. But it was never carried on in such a distinctive manner as since the completion of Christ’s redemptive work, and that miraculous outpouring on Pentecost. It is a work which not only goes back through nineteen hundred years of history, but is as efficacious today as it was in the earliest century, and will not diminish in efficacy, nor decrease in intensity, till the last roll is called, and all the elect have entered on the blessedness of eternal life.
The work of the Holy Spirit is co-extensive with all the activities carried on for the Church, in the Church, and by the Church that really furthers the Kingdom of God. Jesus summarizes this work, in our text, under three heads. He says, the Holy Spirit, when I send Him, shall convince the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. One of the outstanding characteristics of the Gospel message is the deeper meaning it attaches to the fact of sin. Aside from the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, through the Word, the world has scarcely no conception of the real inwardness, and awfulness of sin, or of the universal ravage of which it is the cause. It is only as the Spirit gives to men an adequate conception of sin, that they can entertain right ideas concerning Christ Jesus, and man’s great need of Him. It is only as a man understands the damning, ruinous nature of sin that he can begin to appreciate the righteousness which Jesus Christ has prepared for those who believe. A righteousness which obliterates all the unrighteousness of those who accept it, and makes them righteous as Christ is righteous; for it is His own righteousness which He, through the Spirit, gives to the believer. And clothed upon with the perfect righteousness of Christ, we, indeed, become convinced that there is a Divine judgment, a judgment which is now a process of eliminating the good from the evil, a judgment which will be the proclamation of final conditions; but as the certainty of this judgment grows, the fear of it diminishes, because knowing the Judge and what He has done for us, we are assured of our safety. This also is what it means when we say, “I believe in the Holy Ghost.”
3. His Means
It is a wonderful work the Holy Spirit has been doing in the world, especially these nineteen hundred years. It is the greatest, and, even so far as the benefits to this present life are concerned, the most beneficent the world has ever witnessed. Let us, then, devote a few moments to considering the means through which this work has been wrought, and is still being carried on. We shall here gives but a brief survey of the subject, for we shall have occasion to consider it more in detail at another time.
The Holy Spirit, as we have seen, is one of the persons of the Godhead. God is subject to no laws of limitation save the law of His own being, the law of truth. The Holy Spirit is not bound to work in anyone way, or through any given set of means. He need not use any means or agent at all. But for our good, to guard us against deception, that we may have at our hand the means of enlightenment, God has given us a body of revealed truth, all needed truth, — this is His Word. The Holy Spirit is the One through whose special activity this Word was given us. And now He honors His Word by using it as the means through which He works for our salvation. This Word of God was not only given by the activity of the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:12); it is not only the revelation of His will, the deep things of His counsel (1 Cor. 2:10); but the Word is for us the body in which the Spirit dwells, and through which He operates. There is a sense in which the Holy Spirit is incarnate in the Word as the eternal Son was incarnate in Jesus the Son of Mary. The Word was written not only by inspired men, but the Word itself is inspired. God breathed through the writers, and now He breathes through the writing; the writing breathes God, God the Holy Ghost. He is ever present in the Word to kindle and nourish spiritual life, to sanctify and save. This explains why the Word is called “spirit and life;” this is why it is the “the power of God unto salvation.”
Knowing these truths, how diligently and prayerfully we should make use of God’s Word! How we ought to allow ourselves to be taken captive in the embracing arms of the Holy Spirit, who more and more would bind and cast out the old man, with his spiritual ignorance and lusts, and more and more build up the new man in spiritual knowledge and heavenly graces. In view of these facts, how diligently we should labor to bring this light and life bearing Word to all those who have not yet learned to know it, to at least give them the opportunity to share with us the blessings of Christ’s salvation. This also is included in our confession. “I believe in the Holy Ghost.”
“Come, Holy Spirit, Come;
Let Thy bright beams arise;
Dispel the sorrow from our minds,
The darkness from our eyes.
Dwell, Spirit, in our hearts;
Our minds from bondage free;
Then shall we know and praise and love,
The Father, Son, and Thee.”
By God's grace, each week LutheranLibrary.org will present a new message on the basics of the Evangelical Christian Faith. Our guide is the Small Catechism, as expounded by Traditional Pastor Robert Golladay. May this series bless and inspire you.
- Author: “Golladay, Robert Emory”
- Title: “The Apostles’ Creed”
- Originally Published: 1917 by Lutheran Book Concern, Columbus, Ohio.
- Lutheran Library Edition: 2020
- Copyright: CC BY 4.0