Chapter OneThe Holy Spirit
The Christian Church has always had a good many professing
members who are rather like those disciples at Ephesus who,
when asked by Paul, 'Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you
believed?' replied, 'No, we have never even heard that there is a
Holy Spirit' (Acts 19:2). Of course, this group at Ephesus must
have heard something about the Holy Spirit if they listened at all
attentively to John the Baptist, but they did not realise that the
promised Spirit was available for them; that he could make a
difference to their lives. Many adherents of all denominations
have been in the same state. They have, of course, heard about the
Holy Spirit, but have either put it all down to typical ecclesiastical
in-talk, or assumed that it was not intended for ordinary folk like
themselves. For all practical purposes, the Holy Spirit could be
discounted. Christianity was a matter of churchgoing, of soldiering
on and trying to do one's best, and of believing in the existence
of God and the historical life and death of Jesus (even if his
deity and his resurrection were not to be taken too seriously).
Imprisoned in Church .?
On the other hand, there have always been people in the
Christian Church who were very sure about the Holy Spirit.
It was simple. He was the divine backer of their particular
emphasis in theology and practice. A good deal has been
written in recent years about Primitive Catholicism, the tendency
apparent even within the New Testament period itself to
domesticate the Holy Spirit, to make him the perquisite of the
Church. The man who is validly baptised or rightly instituted
into office in the Church is assured that he has the Holy Spirit.
. or Bible?
It is not only Catholic Christendom which has been guilty of
seeking to domesticate the Holy Spirit in this way. Protestants
have been no less anxious to do so, for the Holy Spirit is a disturbing
influence. Let him therefore be paid lip service, but for
all practical purposes be shut up in the Bible where he can do
no harm. Let his presence attend the confessional statement of
our particular brand of Protestantism. Let the bizarre and
miraculous elements which the New Testament documents
narrate about his activity be relegated to those far-off apostolic
days: it would be very embarrassing and doctrinally untidy if
the Holy Spirit were to speak to men today, or to enable miracles
to be performed and men to speak in tongues not their
own. The Bible, accordingly, is the safest place for the Spirit.
That is where he belongs; not in the hurly-burly of real life.
. or theology?
There was at least this to be said for the mainline Catholic and
Protestant positions. They were comprehensible and clear, if
narrow and restrictive. However, since the growth of biblical
criticism in the last two centuries, and the revolt against authoritarianism
in the past fifty years, there has been a marked tendency
to seek the Holy Spirit in other quarters. Since we can no
longer be shackled by the authoritarianism of a discredited
Bible and a crumbling Papacy, it is to the human spirit that we
must look for inspiration. To begin with, liberal theologians
thought of the Holy Spirit of God as speaking to contemporary
man through those elements in Bible or Church tradition
which accorded best with their own insights. Pope and Bible
were dethroned, to make way for the Professor of Theology.
But unfortunately he did not last very long, and his views were
soon considered out of date by his successors. Why, then,
should it be assumed that the Holy Spirit was particularly
active in professors? Surely this was a hang-over from the scholasticism
of an infallible Bible and the authoritarianism of an
ecclesiastical teaching office?
. or congress?
Perhaps it would be better to seek the contemporary witness of
the Spirit in ecumenical discussions, where all could contribute
their special insight and the Holy Spirit would, doubtless, be
found along with the majority of the votes at the end of the
day? I have been to enough ecclesiastical congresses which have
claimed that the voice of the Holy Spirit lay behind the votes of
the big battalions to be sickened by it. It was not a habit of the
Holy Spirit in biblical times to be identified with the views of
. or wider?
Often we are invited to take a broader view of the whole scene
and to discover the Holy Spirit at work in Buddhism and communism,
in humanism and atheism. Is it to the Holy Spirit,
then, that I must assign Buddhism's denial of the possibility of
forgiveness, or communism's cavalier attitude to truth and
human life, or the self-satisfied man-centredness of much contemporary
humanism? This broad interpretation of the person
and work of the Holy Spirit is somewhat confusing, to say the
least. The whole subject bristles with problems.
. in the Renewal?
Is it surprising that against a background as inchoate as this
a new and virile movement should have arisen, central to
whose belief is the power and reality of the Holy Spirit? At the
beginning of the twentieth century there were no Pentecostals.
Now they number many millions drawn from almost every
nation on earth, and almost every denomination too. The characteristic
emphases of this movement can be seen from glancing
at some of the book titles published on the subject in recent
decades. It is, first and foremost, The Haven of the Masses, a
movement of the people; neither dominated by its ministry, nor
dependent on foreign indoctrination. They Speak with Other
Tongues, which is embarrassing and distasteful to many non-members
of the Pentecostal scene. The claim that they and they
alone have The Baptism with the Holy Spirit, in contrast to
water baptism which marks the rest of Christendom, and the
conversion which figures as largely in Evangelical theology as
does confirmation in Catholic. As at the Beginning the gifts of
Pentecost have been renewed to a parched Church, and It can
happen to Anybody. For the Church of God's frozen people this
is the Pathway to Power; individual and Church alike areGathered for Power. The Third Force has come into the
Christian spectrum, and it is a force to be reckoned with.
Healings, exorcisms, tongues, prophecy are merely the spectacular
tip of the iceberg, the heart of which is a living, loving,
believing Christian fellowship.
What has God disclosed?
What, then, in the face of these many and conflicting voices, is
the Christian to make of the Holy Spirit? Where shall we begin?
It is important to remember that we are mere human beings,
talking about God. And it is not possible for us to know anything
at all about him unless he is generous enough to disclose
himself. Without revelation we cannot say anything about the
Lord who is Spirit. St. Paul makes this very clear. 'What person
can know a man's thoughts,' he asks, 'except the spirit of the
man which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts
of God except the Spirit of God' (1 Cor. 2:11). In other words,
it takes God to reveal God. And Paul claims that God has done
so, through the Spirit interpreting spiritual truths to men who
possess the Spirit. Accordingly, the purpose of this book is to
examine what the Scriptures, particularly in the fuller light
afforded by the New Testament, have to teach about the Holy
Spirit, and to relate their message to our own situation.
Theologians often distinguish between God as he is in
himself, and God as he has revealed himself to us. It seems to
me to be both useless and presumptuous to attempt to pierce
the incognito of the essential Godhead. It is quite enough for
me to try to grasp the way in which God has disclosed himself
to us. And without too much distortion, you could say that it is
a drama in three acts.
Act One: on from Eden
Act One is a long one. It lasts from the beginning of the world's
history until the coming of Jesus Christ. It comprises the whole
history of the people of Israel until the coming of the Messiah.
The Law, the Prophets and the Writings (the three divisions of
the Old Testament Scriptures) combine to teach one basic
lesson. It was this. There is one God, and no runners up. That
is the lesson Abraham learnt in polytheistic Ur of the Chaldees.
It had to be learnt time and again by his descendants throughout
the succeeding twenty centuries. Yahweh, the God of
Israel, was the only deity. The other gods of the heathen were
idols (literally 'nothings' in Hebrew). The downtrodden captives
in Egypt at the time of the Exodus came to realise that
Yahweh, the only self-existent one (Exod. 3:14), was a mighty
deliverer who could be trusted. The Mosaic Law underlines the
fact that their whole social, religious and daily life must be governed
by loyalty to that one God who brought them out of the
land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. They forgot the
message times without number. The Old Testament records
them running after false gods, the gods of the nations round
about them, whenever opportunity offered. Elijah has to drag
them back from the worship of the heathen fertility gods introduced
by Jezebel. Hosea has to recall them to Yahweh, their
first love, when they have gone and committed adultery, like
Hosea's own wife, with some other 'Lord' on whom they have
lavished their worship and devotion. Jeremiah and Isaiah never
tire of reminding the people that there is one God who can save
his people, and that all other refuges are in vain. At last the
lesson got home, and in the last two centuries before Christ,
the Jewish people gave signal proof of their loyalty to the one
God. Under the Maccabeans they withstood the attempts of
Antiochus to overcome their country and shatter their religion.
Later, under Roman occupation, they maintained with unbreakable
courage their strict monotheism; so much so that the Roman
governor did not even dare to bring his standards into Jerusalem
lest the medallions on them depicting the emperor should be
thought to infringe the Second Commandment. Roman coinage
struck in Palestine carried no image of the emperor. Indeed,
when Pilate produced a coin which had an augur's staff on its
obverse, it could well have cost him his job; for an augur's staff
smelt of pagan religion, and that could not be tolerated in Judea.
Finally, as everyone knows, Jewish faith in the one God who
alone was fit to govern Israel led to the Great Revolt of A.D
66-70. It culminated in the capture of Jerusalem, and the
destruction of that temple whose empty Holy of Holies eloquently
proclaimed the greatness of God whose name was too
holy to mention and whose nature was too inscrutable to copy
by any image. Act One was complete. Israel knew beyond
a shadow of doubt that there was one God, the Creator of
the whole world, who had disclosed himself in a special way to
Act Two: on from Bethlehem
But this one who could not be named with impunity, who could
not be copied without distortion, still remained very much
beyond our ken. In Act Two God comes in person to make
himself known. After years of scrutinising Jesus of Nazareth,
of listening to his teaching, of watching his character, of
observing his miracles, after witnessing that shameful death
and experiencing that glorious resurrection, the men who had
known him best were sure of it. This man had brought God into
'God, who spoke of old in many and varied ways to our
fathers through the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us
in a Son. Him he has appointed the heir of all things. Through
him he created the worlds. He reflects the glory of God, and
bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by
the word of his power.'
'In him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead in bodily form.'
'He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all
creation, for in him all things were created, in heaven and on
earth . all things were created in him and for him. His is
the priority over everything, and in him all things hold
'No man has ever seen God; the only Son, himself God, who
is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.'
In words like these Paul, John and the writer of the Epistle
to the Hebrews struggle to express the unheard-of claim, that
they themselves would have deemed blasphemous but for the
irrefragable evidence of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus,
that God had indeed visited and redeemed his people. The one
it was unlawful to name had taken the name of 'Emmanuel'
('God with us') and 'Jesus' ('God saves'). He had done just that;
lived with them, and saved them from a doom and a captivity
worse than that which gripped their forefathers in Pharaoh's
Egypt. They could no longer plead ignorance of God. He had
become one of them, their contemporary. In Jesus all of God
that could take on human expression had been expressed. God,
they had come to see, was Christlike. Act Two was complete.
The one true God was not only over them as their Creator. He
had come alongside them, to reveal himself to them in human
terms, and to rescue them from the self-induced estrangement
into which they had fallen.
Act Three: on from Pentecost
Act Three began at Pentecost, and it has not ended. Nor will it
end until the completion of God's purposes for this world at the
return of Christ. God the Creator, the God who had come
alongside men in Jesus, now made himself available to come
within their very personalities. It is inconceivable that anyone
sat down to think out any doctrine so intrinsically improbable
as the Trinity. It was forced upon them by experience.
Convinced as they were of the unity and uniqueness of God,
the disciples became confident that he was present in Jesus.
After Pentecost, they became assured that their experience of
God's activity in their midst and in their mission was nothing
less than the continued work and presence of Jesus among
them. Accordingly, they did not shrink from speaking
indifferently of 'the Spirit of God' and 'the Spirit of Jesus' or
'the Spirit of Christ'. Jesus of Nazareth was now the prism
through which the various shafts of light in the Old Testament
about the Spirit became luminous and in focus to them.
An analogy such as I have just drawn in this three act drama
of salvation can be dangerously misleading. It could lead to
what the theologians have called 'Modalism', as though God
disclosed himself in these three successive modes or forms - forms
which do not correspond to any differences in his own
nature, but are merely adopted for our benefit. I do not think
that this will do. The ministry of Jesus provides sufficient refutation.
On the one hand he is conceived and baptised by the
Holy Spirit, and promises the gift of that Spirit to his followers
after his death.