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Monday, July 29, 2013

The Holy Spirit Is Indispensable

The continued neglect of the Holy Spirit by evangelical Christians is too evident to deny and impossible to justify.

Evangelical Christianity is Trinitarian: "Praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" is sung in almost every church every Sunday of the year; and whether the singer realizes it or not he is acknowledging that the Holy Spirit is God indeed with equal claim to be worshiped along with the Father and the Son. Yet after this claim is sung at or near the beginning of the service little or nothing is heard of the Spirit again until the benediction. Why?

There is no single answer to this question. The historic church has not as a rule done much better than we. The Apostles' Creed dismisses the Holy Spirit with the words, "I believe in the Holy Ghost." Various other ancient creeds follow this one-sentence acknowledgment. The Nicene Creed goes a bit further, saying, "And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Life-giver, that proceedeth from the Father, who with Father and Son is worshiped together and glorified together, who spake through the prophets.

The Athanasian Creed, the fullest and most explicit of them all, attributes full deity to the Spirit, but while the right truth about the Father and the Son is set forth at considerable length in the document, the most that is said of the Spirit is this: "The Holy Ghost is of the Father, and the Son: not made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding." The Te Deum Laudamus, that most famous and most beautiful of ancient Christians hymns, praises at great length the Father and the Son, but of the Spirit it says only, "Also, the Holy Ghost, the Comforter."

Is it not strange that so much is made of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament and so little in Christian writings supposed to be based upon the New Testament? One of the church fathers, in a treatise on the Trinity written in the third century, devotes to the Holy Spirit but six pages o a book 140 pages in length. While defending the deity of the Spirit, he yet says twenty times as much about the Father and the Son as about the Spirit.

I think it would be only fair to admit that there is more in the New Testament about the Son than about the Spirit, but the disproportion is surely not so great as in the writings referred to above, and certainly the all but total neglect of the Spirit in contemporary Christianity cannot be justified by the Scriptures. The Spirit appears in the second verse of the first book of the Bible and in the last chapter of the last book of the Bible, as well as hundreds of times between the first and the last.

It is not, however, the frequency of the Spirit's mention in the Bible or in other writings that matters most, but the importance attached to Him when He is mentioned. And there can be no doubt that there is a huge disparity between the place given to the Spirit in the Holy Scriptures and the place He occupies in popular evangelical Christianity. In the Scriptures the Holy Spirit is necessary. There He works powerfully, creatively; here He is little more than a poetic yearning or at most a benign influence. There He moves in majesty, with all the attributes of the Godhead; here He is a mood, a tender feeling of good will.

According to the Scriptures everything God did in creation and redemption He did by His Spirit. The Spirit was found brooding over the world at the moment God called it into being. His presence there was necessary. The life-giving work of the Spirit is seen throughout the entire Bible; and it is precisely because He is the Lord and giver of life that the mystery of the Incarnation could occur.

"The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35).

It is highly significant that our Lord, though He was very God of very God, did not work until "God anointed [him] with the Holy Ghost" (Acts 10:38). The Son did His work of love as a Spirit-anointed man; His power derived from the Spirit of power.

It has been wisely suggested that a more revealing title for the The Acts of the Apostles would be The Acts of the Holy Spirit. The men whose mighty deeds are recorded there could have done not one lone act of power if they had not been filled with the Spirit. Indeed the Lord specifically forbade them to try to do anything in their own strength. "But tarry ye  in the city of Jerusalem," He told them, "until ye be endued with power from on high" (Luke 24:49).

The only power God recognizes in His church is the power of His Spirit whereas the only power actually recognized today by the majority of evangelicals is the power of man. God does His work by the operation of the Spirit, while Christian leaders attempt to do their by the power of trained and devoted intellect. Bright personality has taken the place of the divine afflatus.

Everything that men do in their own strength and by means of their own abilities is done for time alone; the quality of eternity is not in it. Only what is done through the Eternal Spirit will abide eternally, all else is wood, hay, stubble.

It is a solemn though that some of us who fancy ourselves to be important evangelical leaders may find at last we have been but busy harvesters of stubble!

~A. W. Tozer~

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