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The Divinity of and Operations Of the Holy Ghost
Evidence of His Personality-Part I
"The Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove," Luke 3:22
Various are the methods by which the truth of any given proposition may be proved, to the satisfaction of the human mind. There are innumerable circumstances, which, by their very nature, cannot be reduced to a mathematical demonstration, and yet bring with them such undeniable testimonies, as are nothing short of a moral certainty. And it is this moral certainty, which, for the most part, becomes the great arbiter of decision, in the common occurrences of life. We cannot possibly obtain any more satisfactory determination than this, respecting subjects connected with remote ages of antiquity. Our belief of the best authenticated truths of history is altogether founded upon the nature and degree of the credibility with which the facts are attested, and does not depend upon any knowledge we possess of the facts themselves. And yet no one hesitates to receive with implicit faith, whatever is built upon such a foundation, of evidences, as rises into a moral probability. Let this reasoning be abstracted from common events, and applied to religion, and especially to the mysterious parts of it; which not depending upon personal knowledge, but collateral evidence, should be governed by the same rule. In all cases indeed, where palpable and ocular demonstration is not attainable, we may very fairly admit such testimony, as contains the fullest assurances of a moral certainty. It will readily be granted, that the greater obscurity in which any truth is involved, the greater necessity arises therefrom, for a more close application of the intellectual faculties to its investigation; and it is not barely an allowable, but a very commendable suspension of the judgment, and proper to be exercised upon all occasions, where the evidences of the truth are not convincing and satisfactory. Particularly on so momentous a concern as that of religion, we cannot be too careful in examining the grounds of belief, nor too scrupulous in admitting only what comes recommended with proper authority. But at the same time, it must argue inveterate prejudice, or somewhat worse, to resist such testimonies, (and especially where the nature of the subject precludes higher proofs), as cannot but be fairly allowed by all impartial persons, to be sufficient to the conviction of every candid and reasonable mind.
I have been led into this train of observation, (which is not inapplicable, and will not, I hope, be thought impertinent, as prefatory to the intended subject of the present discourse), in considering the nature of the evidence, with which we are furnished, of the personality of the Holy Ghost. The testimonies to this great truth, it must be acknowledged, are of that kind, which admit not of mathematical demonstration; but they afford all the proofs which can be required of a moral certainty. It has been observed, that Scripture does not in so many words directly say, that the Holy Ghost is a person; but we find a great variety of passages in the holy book, and those passages supported by as many other collateral testimonies, tantamount to the same, which as fully prove his personality, as that of either of the sacred persons in the Godhead. If then it can be fairly and fully shown, and from the unquestionable authority of the inspired word, that the sacred Three, which constitute the one indivisible essence of Godhead, are each distinguished by peculiar operations, clearly specifying a distinction of person and character; though the mode of existence cannot be fully explained to human apprehension; yet, if it be a doctrine necessarily arising out of Scripture, and capable of being amply proved by it, it becomes as certain a proposition for the assurance of faith, as any mathematical deduction can be for the conviction of sense. In that wonderful series of operations which are peculiarly ascribed to the Holy Ghost, we trace every mark which can discriminate an all-wise, all-powerful, and Supreme Agent. And if these attributes are proofs of personality, (as they cannot but be acknowledged), what does it signify, that our faculties are not commensurate to the apprehension, how the distinction of being is preserved in the several persons of the Godhead, consistent with the unity of the divine essence? The fact surely is not lessened by our incompetency of perception. Truth can never depend upon our ability of explaining it. We can only draw certain conclusions from certain premises. And from the selfsame argument, by which we infer the person of a man, from actions which demonstrate his existence and identity; we must infer the being of the blessed Spirit, from actions which can be ascribed only to personality.
Agreeably to the plan which I have prescribed to myself, for the execution of our subject; having, in the preceding Sermon clearly established the certainty of the Being of the Holy Ghost, by tracing his footsteps through the Scriptures of the Old Testament, in which are discoverable a train of operations, all demonstrative of his pervading presence and power; it becomes necessary, before we prosecute our researches, respecting the continuance of his agency, carried on under the dispensation of the New Testament, that we should inquire into the person and character of a Being, to whom we have seen ascribed such wonderful operations. Whether he be a person existing with the Eternal Father, and the Eternal Son, in the one indivisible essence of the Godhead; or only an emanation, an attribute, or quality, of the Godhead; is the important question for decision. It will be the object of the present discourse therefore to substantiate the certainty of his personality, by a selection of the several testimonies of Scripture, which are express to this purpose.
Among the evidences which it may be necessary to bring forward upon the occasion, I consider the text, and the circumstances connected with it, as very highly illustrative of the subject. In which, if I mistake not, is included not only an express identity of character in the Holy Ghost, but at the same time, an evident distinction is implied, of somewhat peculiar and appropriate to each of the sacred persons in the Godhead.1
When John the Baptist, in compliance with the request of Christ, had baptized our Lord in the river Jordan, the evangelist tells us, that "the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape, like a dove,2 upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." In this passage we perceive three divine persons distinctly specified, as engaged in this solemn transaction; our blessed Lord in the act of being baptized; the Holy Ghost visibly descending in a bodily shape like a dove; and the Father declaring by the ministry of a voice from heaven, Christ to be his beloved Son. Though the relation is but short, yet, it must be confessed, it is very decisive. And as far as is necessary for our purpose, or perhaps, as we are capable of apprehending personal distinction in the Godhead, very clear and discriminating characters of each are drawn in it. For if the voice which came from heaven (and which it should be particularly noticed, followed the descent of the Holy Ghost), could be no other than the voice of the Father (which will not I believe be doubted); and if the authority of the inspired writer be admitted, that the Holy Ghost actually descended upon our Lord in a visible form; the certainty that the blessed Spirit is a person, must undeniably follow, by the plainest of all proofs. And thus we are provided with a positive testimony to this great truth, in the very first page of the gospel. Here are present, and distinctly so, the Holy Three.
To this testimony, we may add another of the same kind from that memorable passage of the apostle John, in the first of his epistles. "There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one."3 Among all that has been said upon this remarkable verse of Scripture, it has never been once questioned (on the supposition of its authenticity), to whom the sacred characters mentioned in it referred. And if any form of words can convey a determinate sense of personal distinction, it must certainly be allowed that this passage does so, and that in the clearest manner. Each of the characters are specifically enumerated; nor is there anything said which can imply the personality of the Father, and the Son, more than that of the Holy Ghost. And it would be a contradiction in terms to say that there are three which bear record, if the Holy Ghost be considered only as an attribute or emanation of the Godhead; for in this case there could be but two; the Father and the Word; the emanation being a nonentity. It is charging therefore the apostle with somewhat worse than folly, to suppose that he should assert that there are three heavenly witnesses, when upon this state of things there are but two. From this plain representation of the fact, I leave it with any man of common reflection to determine, whether the certainty of the Holy Ghost's being a person could have been more strongly inferred by any other form of words than this under consideration; and whether this may not serve to account also for the reason why we meet with no passage in the Scripture, which in direct terms declares his personality; because the fact itself is so fully ascertained, both from the nature of the thing, and the various and concurrent testimonies to this amount, that so obvious a proposition could require no plainer evidence.
It would be going out of my way, to remark the strength which is derived from this text of Scripture, to the fundamental doctrine of the Catholic faith. This is too glaring, I am persuaded, to escape notice; and it is beside my present purpose to enter upon its discussion. All that I am concerned at this time to prove is the personality of the Holy Ghost. And the observations which have been made with this view, upon the words of the apostle, will, I hope, in a great measure answer this intent. Perhaps it might tend to corroborate the proof still more, if it could be shown, that St. John in his relation of the three heavenly witnesses alluded to some more particular season than ordinary, when this testimony might be given. And if so, there is none to which it can be so applicable, during the days of our Lord's ministration in the flesh, as to the time of his baptism. And this appears to me to be so highly probable, that I confess it was in this idea, I introduced to your consideration this passage of the apostle's, immediately after noticing the preceding paragraph, as forming the best illustration of it. It was in that solemn transaction of our Lord's baptism, above every other recorded in Scripture, in which the united testimony of the sacred Three was delivered together. During many seasons of Christ's ministry, we discover each of the heavenly witnesses, separately and distinctly testifying to the truth of our Lord's mission. At the transfiguration, and in answer to Christ's prayer, the Father, by a voice from heaven, declared his approbation of the person and character of Jesus. Upon several occasions, and especially before Pontius Pilate, the untreated Word himself "witnessed a good confession." And the third of the heavenly witnesses, the Holy Ghost, besides his visible descent on Christ at his baptism, and on the apostles at the day of Pentecost, has been, and still continues to be, the great witness of the church of Christ, by his indwelling and perpetual influence, agreeably to our Lord's promise, in the hearts of believers. But though these are all so many very satisfactory and circumstantial proofs, in support of the apostle's doctrine, of the three heavenly witnesses, separately and distinctly considered; yet if it be supposed, that he referred to their joint testimony given, in any one particular period of our Lord's ministry upon earth, it should seem to have been to this of his baptism, than which nothing can be more express and particular. I mention it, however, with the respectful diffidence of one, who presumes not to speak confidently or decidedly upon a subject so sublime and mysterious. That the passage of the apostle may be very fairly considered as proved in its doctrine, by the testimonies which attended the baptism of Jesus, is beyond dispute, and the comparative view of both Scriptures therefore naturally tends to this conviction.
I pass on to the consideration of a third proof of the blessed Spirit's personality, from the testimony of the sacred word, and which may be gathered from the benediction so frequently used by the apostle Paul in his writings. One example of this kind will be sufficient for our purpose. He concludes his second Epistle to the Corinthians in these words: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost be with you all," Amen. If personality be supposed, by implication, to be in the Lord Jesus Christ, or in God, for dispensing the blessings here wished or prayed for, the same reasoning will make it necessary that it should be equally so in the Holy Ghost. And can anyone conceive that the qualities of grace in Christ and love in God (which without all doubt are such personal qualities, as afford the possibility of their being imparted from one to another), can be more so, than the communion, which is also as directly implored from the Holy Ghost? are those qualities of grace in Christ, and love in God, to be joined with the communion of one, that is himself but a quality, an attribute, or energy, of Christ and God? On this presumption it becomes an interesting question, what is meant by the communion of an energy? And how is this communion conveyed, by the operation of an energy, into the hearts of believers?
And upon the supposition of the simple humanity of Jesus, the difficulty of apprehending the apostle's meaning, is yet more increased. For in this case, the grace of a man is classed upon the same terms and as a point of the same consequence to be wished, with the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost. So that the apostle, after instructing his Corinthian converts in all the great truths of the gospel, closes his epistle with desiring, as a matter of the same moment to their future welfare, that the grace of a creature, and the love of the Creator, joined with the communion of an energy of the Godhead, might be with them all! To what a miserable expedient are men driven, while denying either the divinity of Christ, or the personality of the blessed Spirit.4
One text more shall suffice, in support of the present argument. The apostle Paul, in his epistle to the Ephesians, speaking of our Lord, makes use of the following expression: "For through him we both have an access by one Spirit unto the Father," (Eph. 2:18). It will not be questioned, to whom the phrase through him refers; the context manifestly shows, that it can be no other than Christ; and from hence it will appear, that this short sentence contains a summary proof of the same doctrine of the blessed Spirit's personality, and is as pertinent to the purpose as the preceding. To see the force of the argument, take the negative proposition of the case, and suppose the Spirit here spoken of, to be an emanation or quality of the Father; the sense of it then would be, "for through him (that is Christ) we both have an access by one Spirit (of the Father) unto the Father;" which would be a violation of all the terms of common speech, and in direct opposition to the clear manner of expression, observable in all the writings of St. Paul. To reduce it to any tolerable frame for apprehension, on this supposition, the phrase should have been worded, by the Spirit, and not in a specific distinction of one Spirit; for upon this notion, it might lead to a conjecture, whether there be more spirits than one in God. The original, however, will admit of no such variation: the express words are, "in (or by) one Spirit," (en eni pneumatic).
These selections from Scripture may be sufficient to answer the purpose intended, of showing, that according to the plain and unperverted language of the divine word, the Holy Ghost cannot be considered as an emanation, or energy of the Godhead, but a Being possessed of consciousness and intelligence, and to whom personal powers and properties clearly belong. More to the same amount might have been brought forward, but it would be lengthening the subject unnecessarily. In those I have produced, the personal distinction in the sacred Three (whatever that distinction may be), hath, I hope, been rendered sufficiently obvious. Our subsequent inquiries will lead to the discovery of his dignity and character, when we come to examine, whether a being, distinguished by such properties, and to whom is ascribed an equal participation with the Father and the Son, in all the attributes of Godhead, must not, together with them, in the indivisibility of the divine essence, form the one necessarily self-existing God.
But the argument in proof of the Holy Ghost's personality will be considerably strengthened, by a review of the testimony given to it by our blessed Lord. I shall produce a few instances of this kind, from the words and conversation of Christ, by way of illustration.
In that memorable conference, which Jesus held with his disciples, a short space before his sufferings and death, he promised to send to them the Holy Ghost; observing at the same time, that the expediency of his departure arose from this very circumstance, that he must go to send him unto them, for the event of his coming depended wholly upon it. "If I go not away (says Christ) the Comforter will not come; but if I depart, I will send him unto you," (John 16:7). There is something very remarkable in the terms of expression made use of by our divine Lord, through the whole of this conversation, which, when examined, will be found to afford a considerable degree of information, relative to the subject we are upon. Christ declares it to be a measure absolutely expedient, that he should leave his disciples, in order that he might send to them the blessed Spirit: a positive proof this of a personal distinction between Christ and the blessed Spirit, to admit of this mission, in the one from the other. And when he adds, that he will send the Holy Ghost to them, "from the Father;" this as clearly implies the same distinction of personality in the Holy Ghost, from the Father. Indeed his mission from either, or both, could be the event only of such distinction, and upon the presumption, that the Holy Ghost is not a person, but merely an attribute, or emanation of the Father; and Christ himself, not one in unity with the Father, the expression of our Lord is, beyond all conception, mysterious and inexplicable; for he declares the coming of the blessed Spirit to be the result of his own immediate authority and appointment. "If I depart (says Christ) I will send him unto you." Could he presume to say, that he would send him?-What! could any created being, even the highest of all created beings, assume a language like this, as if the emanations of Godhead were at his disposal? But; perhaps, it will be replied, by way of invalidating the argument, that in another part of the same discourse, our Lord declares, that he will pray the Father, and he shall send the Holy Spirit upon his disciples. Most certainly Christ hath said it; but this is so far from being a real objection to the doctrine, that it will be found, when analyzed, to be the fullest confirmation of it.
Nothing can be more palpable and clear, than that Christ, in all his conversation with his disciples, respecting the mission of the Holy Ghost, and particularly in the discourse now under consideration, ascribes his coming to the appointment of the Father and himself. He speaks of him indeed as the gift of both, and this (as was before observed) is of itself certainly sufficient to establish the assurance of the distinct personality of the Holy Ghost; for the mission from either or both, can consist only in this separability of person. And with respect to the same operations being indiscriminately applied to both the Father and the Son, what is the unavoidable inference of this fact, but what all the parts of Scripture concur in declaring; namely, that there subsists such an unity of essence between them, that the acts of the one are at the same time no less the acts of the other; and though evidently distinct in person, yet by a mysterious, and to us incomprehensible union of Being, they are but one in nature; agreeably to what our blessed Lord continually taught: "What things soever the Father doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise," (John 5:19). "I and my Father are one," (John 10:30). "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father. I am in the Father and the Father in me," (John 14:9, 11). Attend, I beseech you, to this interesting part of Scripture, of our Lord's farewell conversation with his disciples; and the more closely you inspect it, the more plainly will you perceive strong leading points in proof of this first and grand article of the Christian creed; that there are three distinct persons, clearly defined by their respective properties and operations, and yet as evidently united in the one indivisible essence of Godhead.
I have already stated the evidences of the divine unity of Christ with the Father. The person of the Holy Ghost, and his participation no less in the same mysterious essence of the Godhead, will, I think, as fully appear from the following considerations.
"I will pray the Father, (says Christ) and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever," (John 14:16). Another Comforter! what can more strikingly define the person of the Holy Ghost, and more accurately distinguish him from the person of Jesus, than this appellation of another Comforter? And yet, that the great doctrine of the unity, subsisting between them in the divine essence, might not be overlooked or forgotten, in the very following verse but one, after this declaration, Christ expressly adds, "I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you," (John 14:18); So that the Holy Ghost is positively said to be another Comforter, which should come unto the disciples; and still Christ would not leave them comfortless, but he would come unto them. Does not this very plainly imply a relationship and affinity, of a most peculiar and inexpressibly intimate nature, subsisting in those sacred characters? And upon any other ground than that of the union which I have mentioned, (and which, let it be further observed, is not barely the doctrine of this place, but is the general doctrine of Scripture) is not the expression unwarrantable, complex, and even contradictory? But accepted in this sense, agreeably to the analogy of the Catholic faith, the whole becomes plain and intelligible, as far, at least, as our faculties are competent to the apprehension of the subject, and a striking agreement and uniformity are discovered to pervade every part of the divine word.
But this is not all the proof we derive from this portion of Scripture, of the personality of the blessed Spirit. The distinction of character given to the Holy Ghost by our Lord, in the appellation of another Comforter, does not more accurately define this doctrine, than the mode of operation, by which his agency was to be carried on, becomes demonstrative of the same. Among other evidences of personal action, that of receiving and giving, are clearly properties belonging to an intelligent conscious agent; and in this same discourse, Christ hath represented the Holy Ghost under such characters, as can leave no question in the mind but that the Being who possessed them must be a person. "He shall receive of mine and shall shew it unto you. He shall not speak of himself," (John 16:13-14). Surely to receive from another must argue being in the receiver, and an evident distinction from the person from whom he receives; and the very possibility of speaking, and not speaking of himself, must imply the certainty of his being and identity, as distinguishable from the person of him of whom he speaks, and that hath a self, if I may be allowed the expression. I conceive it to be impossible, upon any principles of common sense, to interpret these sayings of Jesus, but as so many testimonies of a distinct personality in the Holy Ghost; and if they are not admitted in this light, I despair of finding proofs of any one proposition in nature, which depends for its certainty, not so much upon direct as collateral evidence. Nor, by the way, (it may be observed while we are upon the subject) are these things more convincing of the person than those characters of omnipresence and invisibility, under which our Lord represents the Holy Ghost in the same chapter, are of his Godhead. "He shall abide with you for ever. Whom the world cannot receive because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him: for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you," (John 14:16-17). To possess such attributes, as permanency of existence, invisibility of nature, and perpetuity of power; to be with his people at all times, and in all places, and to abide with them forever, are such properties, as no being less than divine, can be distinguished by. And shall we then receive such accounts from Jesus himself of the Holy Ghost, and yet entertain doubts either of his person or Godhead?
Before I dismiss the consideration of this memorable conference of Christ with his apostles, I ought to observe that the part which we have reviewed is not more in point to the person and divinity of the Holy Ghost, than the whole is in correspondence with the great doctrine of the divine unity in the essence of the Godhead. Without multiplying evidences in proof, it will be sufficient to observe, that though Christ declared, that he would not leave his people comfortless, but that he would come unto them; and at the same time the Holy Ghost was expressly promised to come, and as another Comforter; yet it is no less said, that the Father also would come, and dwell in the hearts of believers: "If a man love me, (says Christ) my Father will love him, and we will come and make our abode with him," (John 14:23). So that in the same discourse of our Lord, and within a few verses of each other, here are the whole sacred Three, promised to the disciples, under the same character, and such a character as must include everything of Godhead in the performance thereof. Let the skeptic of any denomination, if he can, reason away the plain doctrine here expressed: let him deny the personality of each; or admit the personality, but under the perfect conviction of the unity of the divine essence!
The assurance of this grand and unalterable foundation of our holy faith, though always impressed upon my mind in, indelible characters, yet, in the moment while reviewing afresh the incontrovertible evidences of it, fills me with a more than ordinary joy and peace in believing. I hope therefore, you will excuse my desiring you to attend to these testimonies, with that awakened concern, which so grand and interesting a subject demands; until you have found the promise of your Redeemer, with respect to this gift of the Spirit, fulfilled in your own heart. If a man has never felt the proof of his divine operation in himself, is it not from the very cause, which Christ has assigned; "whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him?" If this prejudice hath taken possession of the understanding, it is morally impossible for the truth to enter in. The eye of the mind, like the eye of the body, may be clouded with films which shall obstruct all vision. And these are what may literally be called cataracts, occasioning mental blindness. And as our blessed Lord in his unequalled manner of reasoning hath observed; "if the very light that is in a man be darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Matt. 6:23). But with respect to the true believer, "in whose heart the love of God is shed abroad, by the power of the Holy Ghost," (Rom. 5:5); he knows by experience, the certainty of these truths, by the effect of their operations: "ye know him, (says our divine Lord) for he dwelleth with you and shall be in you," (John 14:17). Happy the man "that hath received this testimony, and set to his seal that God is true," (John 3:33); to whose spirit, "the Spirit itself beareth witness," that he is of "the children of God," (Rom. 8:16).
Again, our blessed Lord in a well-known passage, when speaking of the unpardonable sin, hath very fully ascertained the personality of the Holy Ghost; and, in the statement of this crime, hath as clearly proved it, as any indirect testimony can be supposed to do. "'All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme. But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost, hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation," (Mark 3:28-29). I shall not trespass upon your patience, by entering upon that interesting question, which hath already engaged so much attention, and received such ample discussion, in what the nature and malignity of this sin consists, and the reason of its being unpardonable. Though it forms, no doubt, at all times, a very important subject, and demands the most serious inquiry, yet it is not immediately connected with the object I have in view.5 It is sufficient for my present purpose to observe, that it is beyond all doubt of peculiar malignity, from being the only sin absolutely irremissible, while every other species of blasphemy is declared not to be precluded from pardon. But whatever the reasons may be, which make it so, the thing itself very fully proves, in my esteem, the certainty of the person of the Holy Ghost. For on the supposition that the Holy. Ghost is but an attribute, or emanation of the Godhead; in this case, an offence against the Omnipresence, the Omniscience, or any other of the attributes of the Godhead, might, according to its atrocity, be rendered equally unpardonable. But even under this idea, it would be still unaccountable, that a sin committed against an attribute of the Godhead, should be irremissible, while against the Godhead himself "all manner of sin and blasphemy" should be capable of forgiveness. Besides, upon the supposition that the Holy Ghost is, but an attribute of the Father, whatever sin is committed against the one, necessarily includes the other; for the one proceeds from the other; but Christ hath evidently expressed a distinction, in admitting the possibility of sinning, both against the person of the Father, and of the Son, and in a manner which shall be venial, while he declares, that there is an offence, capable of being committed against the Holy Ghost, which precludes the possibility of forgiveness. Surely nothing can more strikingly identify the person of the Holy Ghost, than this distinction. Sin against God must include sin against either of his attributes, as the greater proposition includes the less; and consequently, if there be a crime, into which a man may fall, against the Holy Ghost, beyond the reach of pardon, while at the same time, all manner of sins and blasphemies, committed against God, may be remitted: a volume of arguments cannot be more convincing, in the demonstration of any given truth, than this is, in proving that such a doctrine can only be admissible, upon the certainty of a distinction of person.
While we are upon this remarkable text of Scripture, I should not think myself justified, if I omitted the observation, that the self-same argument, which implies the personality, proves no less the Godhead also, of the Holy Ghost. When our Lord says, that "all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men," or as, in the parallel passage by St. Mark, it is expressed, "and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme;" these terms very plainly state the nature of the offence, and indicate the Being, against whom the commission can be only applicable, for blasphemies can relate to no other, than a certain species of offence committed against God: it would be a perversion of language to talk of blasphemies against man. If then all manner of sin shall be forgiven unto men and blasphemies, wherewith they shall blaspheme; and yet there is one offence of this kind, when committed against the Holy Ghost, incapable of remission; is this possible but under the clear connection of his Divinity? does not the very name and nature of the sin, define the character of the Being against whom it is committed? And if blasphemy cannot be committed but against God, and yet is capable of being committed against the Holy Ghost, will any man refuse to see, that the Godhead of the Holy Ghost is fully implied? must not indeed the consequence as undeniably follow, that the Holy Ghost is God, as any demonstration of the plainest proposition of Euclid?
These arguments appear to me, I confess, so very decisive, in proof both of the personality and divinity of the blessed Spirit, as cannot fail, I persuade myself, of carrying conviction with them, wherever they are duly and thoroughly considered.
But as additional evidence may be gratifying, you will not think it tedious, I hope, if I examine a single testimony more, from the words of Jesus, upon, this important question, and especially as we are furnished with one of a very weighty nature, from the memorable form of baptism, which our blessed Lord appointed, as a standing ordinance for the initiation of believers, within the pale of his church. "Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, (Matt. 28:19). Whatever was the intention of our blessed Lord, in the ordination of this ordinance; however differently, the service itself may have been understood and accepted in the Christian world, one thing must be allowed; that Christ himself, at the time he appointed it, could neither be unconscious of his own nature, nor of the real character of the Holy Ghost: of consequence, he cannot be supposed to have instituted a service of universal obligation and of perpetual extent, which should be liable to ambiguity, or capable of misleading his people. This I think will hardly be disputed. Let us now examine the form of baptism, prescribed by Christ, under this idea, and see what information we can derive from it, in the particular point of doctrine we are now upon. "Go ye, and baptize all nations in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." I presume it will be readily granted, that the terms here made use of, plainly indicate, that converts to the gospel, were to be baptized in the joint name of the sacred Three: for there is no distinction made between the one and the other; they are all equally mentioned alike, without any title or character of eminence prefixed to their respective names; and if divinity by implication be supposed in the Father from the solemn dedication of Christians to him in baptism; the same must be understood of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. But let us meet the objection to this doctrine, in every point of view imaginable. Upon the presumption that Christ is one with the Father, according to his own express declaration, and yet that the Holy Ghost is not a person, but an emanation, or attribute of the Godhead; how strange and unaccountable is it, that our Lord should join in the same form of worship, and without the least intimation of any distinction, two persons, and one attribute; and Command his followers to be dedicated thereby to the joint service of the Father, the Son, and an attribute of the Father, and the Son! What adoration can be paid to an attribute? does not the very notion of God include the attributes of God? and wherefore this distinction?
But supposing that Jesus is simply no other than a man, the difficulty of apprehension is increased. In this case we are baptized into the joint name, and of consequence called upon to the joint obedience of three in one, between whom, no conceivable distance can be sufficient to demonstrate their infinite disparity. And did our blessed Lord really mean this, when he appointed this solemn service? was it his intention, that we should be baptized, in the name of the Father, as God, of the Son, as man, and the Holy Ghost, as an attribute of God? What an awful breach of the first commandment would it have been, to join a creature with a Creator, in the same form of dedication, and to separate as it were, between God and his Spirit, by introducing a man between them, and giving him precedence to the Holy Ghost! Are the persons who seriously adopt this opinion, aware, what a heavy charge is indirectly brought by it, against the Son of God?
Neither is the case at all mended by those who, to obviate this difficulty, are content to allow a subordinate degree of Godhead, to the Son, and Holy Ghost, and thus by endeavoring to qualify the form of baptism, in supposing this inferiority, have dug up the foundation-stone of all religion, in the unity of the Godhead, and made Christ the author of confusion, in building polytheism upon the ruins.
There is no possibility therefore of receiving this text of Scripture in any other sense, according to the common acceptation of words, and the very reason of things, than what hath been invariably understood by all the orthodox believers, from the first establishment of the church, namely, that the Holy Ghost is a person, and that his Godhead, together with the Godhead of the Father, and the Son, subsist in one undivided essence. And in the further confirmation of this creed, the service included in the words of Christ's appointment, becomes still more explanatory.
Suppose it was intended by Christ, as a federal rite, to testify a covenant between God and man. That part of it which God engages to perform is stipulated in the joint name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. But if the Son and Holy Ghost be not possessed of Godhead with the Father, how can they have ability sufficient to bestow what is promised, in this Christian covenant, to believers? Can any being, which, if not the Creator, must be created (for there is no medium of existence between), grant the gift of eternal life, as the reward of faithfulness, unless he himself possesses eternal life, underived and independent? And with respect to the obligation on the part of man, can a man with safety engage, to perform certain duties, in equal degrees and with equal reverence, to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, as to the Father (which, if the baptismal service implies anything of this kind to either, must imply it equally to all), and yet imagine the Son to be a created being, and the Holy Ghost nothing more than an emanation of the Father? If the Son be a created being, is he not himself as much obliged to the worship of the Creator, as any other creature can be? And if the Holy Ghost be no more than an emanation or attribute of the Father, can he be distinguishable from the Father as an object of worship? And under these circumstances would Christ have appointed a solemn service in his religion, and placed it at the very door of his church, that no one should enter in without complying with its terms, which enjoins equal honors to God, and to a man, and an attribute of God! I shudder while I speak; but the conclusion is inevitable, if this be really the state of the case, that Christ is but a man, and the Holy Ghost an emanation only of the Godhead. Jesus hath then obliged all his disciples to the commission of idolatry, and is literally the minister of sin!
And if baptism be considered as a means of grace, for washing away the guilt of original sin, the same train of arguments, and proceeding from the same causes, must operate with equal conviction, to prove both the person of the Holy Ghost, and the Godhead of the sacred Three. The observation which the Scribes made upon our Lord's forgiveness of sins, though the effect of irritation and anger, and applied most improperly in reference to him, was yet, in respect to the doctrine itself, perfectly just and well-founded: "Who can forgive sins but God only?" (Mark 2:7). None most unquestionably but God can absolve the sinner. It is His sole prerogative. But if there be a remission of sins in baptism, nothing can be clearer, than that this remission is made in the name, and by the joint authority of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Will any man recur to the former idea of supposing, that this is one God, and two inferior gods, or two creatures? or will he imagine, that it is one God, and a creature, and an attribute, all classed together into one form as dispensing the same act of grace? Is the Divinity become mutable, and though having once awfully declared, that he is a jealous God, jealous of his sovereignty and power, and that he would by no means give his honor to another, yet hath now taken into the government with himself inferior characters, and delegated them with equal authority? And hath the Divine Author of Christianity really appointed a standing ordinance in his church, which from such premises cannot but lead to such conclusions?—What infinite cause have we to praise the Divine benignity, for preventing such errors! The utmost torturing of expression, the most violent perversion of terms, cannot explain away the very palpable sense and doctrine, contained in this solemn service of our blessed Lord's appointment. Baptism "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost," carries with it every idea of person and divinity, in the sacred characters specifically enumerated; divine in nature, indivisible in essence, but distinguished at the same time, by those respective personalities, in which they are revealed to us, as jointly engaged in the great work of man's redemption. And I cannot forbear adding, what must be a gratifying consideration to every true believer, and which he ought not by any means to overlook, that our blessed Lord did not command his religion to commence with this solemn proclamation of faith, in the name of the sacred Three, but with some important design, and to answer some very special purpose: and what design could be more important, or what purpose more special, than to check the daring hand of heresy, by a fence of this nature? Foreseeing the errors which would arise, to disturb the peace of the church, after his visible presence was withdrawn; either from the artifice of the common enemy, or from the corruption of the human heart; he provided in this memorial of himself and his religion, a remedy of universal operation, which no sophistry should evade, nor malice prevent; and by placing it in the very title-page of his gospel, hath kept the holy volume for ever sacred, against the admission of heresy, and preserved the faith therein pure, by an inviolable barrier.6
I have now finished the first branch of my subject, in the selection of a number of passages from Scripture (and I hope sufficient to the purpose), in proof of the personality of the Holy Ghost. There remains another part to be considered, equally illustrative of the same doctrine; in the properties and operations, as well active as passive, which are ascribed to the blessed Spirit, in the word of God, but which cannot on any consideration be admissible, but under the assurance of his personality. This however, with divine permission, must be reserved for another discourse. In the mean time let it not be thought a tedious or unnecessary extension of the subject. I pity the man, who feels himself uninterested in the prosecution of an inquiry so highly important, and can turn from it with a fastidiousness and disregard. What an infinite reproach is it, that men of the world shall never know what satiety is, while engaged in the several vain objects of their affection; but the smallest application to divine things, is enough to cloy and sicken the appetite, and excite disgust! Go, ye careless professors of religion, whose attention cannot be kept awake, either by the excellence of the sacred subject, or the awful interest, in which its consequence involves you; go, and prosecute those delights, which better correspond with the ardor of your inclination: but be it the ambition of all real lovers of God, to imbibe a portion of the Psalmist's spirit, and to form their principles by the standard of his 'piety. "Oh! how I love thy law, it is my meditation all the day. Mine eyes prevent the night watches, that I might be occupied in thy word. How sweet are thy words unto my taste, yea sweeter than honey unto my mouth. The law of thy mouth is dearer unto me than thousands of gold and silver."
1 Perhaps, in priority of order, the first text of Scripture, which ought to have been noticed in our argument, is the one contained in the annunciation of the angel to the Virgin Mary: "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee," (Luke 1:35). In this verse, unless the "Holy Ghost," and the "power of the Highest," be considered synonymous (which without a degree of violence to the terms made use of cannot be admitted), here is a plain distinction expressed, sufficient to infer the personality of the Holy Ghost. But it is enough to notice it in this incidental way, without lengthening the subject by introducing it into the body of the discourse. Back to reading.
2 It would be a tedious, and after all an unprofitable service, to collect the great variety of opinions among commentators, respecting the particular form assumed by the Holy Ghost, in his descent upon the person of Christ. Many have supposed that the words are to be taken literally, as they are expressed, that the Holy Ghost descended in the shape of a dove; and it must be acknowledged that the words of the evangelist seem to indicate as much somatiko eidei the literal English of which is, in a corporeal form. Others have concluded from the parallel passage in Matthew 3:16, and also of Mark 1:10, in both which the phrase is hosei peristerav, that the blessed Spirit descended on Christ as a dove, that is, he descended in a similar manner, and as a dove, which hovers over the object before it alights upon it. Hammond, Whitby, and Guyse, are of this opinion, and in justification of it observe, that had the appearance related to the shape or form only the words should not have been osei peristerav—as a dove, but with a genitive, osei peristeras, as of dove. But these differences of sentiment are all confined to the manner, or form, in which the Holy Ghost was pleased to descend, and have no relation to the certainty of his appearance. There is but one opinion respecting this, in which they all concur with the evangelist; that the Holy Ghost actually descended: a sufficient evidence (when considered in conjunction with the testimonies given at the same time of the operations of the Father and of the Son) of the blessed Spirit's personality. I cannot dismiss this note, without adding to it the remark of Dr. Owen in his observations upon the Spirit's descent, in which he takes notice of the analogy between the operation of the Holy Ghost in the beginning of the old creation and the commencement of the new. As in the former instance, in the world of nature, the Spirit is said to have moved upon the waters, communicating life and energy to the fluid, for the purposes to which it was intended to minister: so he hovered over him in the baptismal waters, by whose operation in the world of grace, all things were to be made new. The form of a dove also, assumed perhaps in allusion to that dove which, after the destruction of the old world, brought tidings of life and liberty to Noah, became no unapt similitude to intimate his ministry, who came with tidings of eternal life and salvation to mankind, when under the destruction of sin and death. The idea is certainly very just and beautiful, and it is really astonishing how many charming things of the same kind, to illustrate the analogy of Scripture, may be discovered from comparative views of it, by those who explore the book of God with a diligence of application suitable to its infinite importance. The sacred word, in this sense, may be considered (according to one of the inimitable figures of our divine Lord) as hidden treasure; its richest ore lies deep, and will not be found but by digging for it; those who sweep the surface only, will leave the most valuable parts behind. Back to reading.
3 I am not to be informed, of the many disputes which have taken place, concerning the authenticity of this verse; and of the charges which have been brought by the opposers of our Lord's Godhead against it, that it is an interpolation. It is not indeed a matter of the smallest surprise, that a verse, which on the supposition of its being genuine carries with it such an invincible proof of the doctrine of Christ's divinity, should be called in question by persons whose tenets are hostile to this grand article of a Christian's faith. Whoever wishes to see the different opinions on this long contested subject, may find them very amply discussed, and with an impartiality suited to the sacred nature of the question, in Dr. Mills' Prolegomena; or Hammond in his Annotations; and Mr. John Reynold's continuation of Henry's Exposition. And among later authors, none more circumstantially than by Archdeacon Travis in his letters to Mr. Gibbon. It is not the smallest predilection I trust, that induces me to say, I have received the most satisfying conviction of its authenticity. And I venture to believe, that whoever sits down, and reads with coolness and without prejudice, the very impartial statement of Dr. Mills upon the subject, will rise up, not only highly pleased with the Doctor's candor, and the ability which he hath shown in the investigation; but be of the same opinion as he was, that the verse brings with it such decisive marks of a genuine reading, that it ought by all means to be retained in our copies of the New Testament. For my own part, I would beg, with great deference to other writers, to make one observation upon it, which though it may have been made before, yet is in my esteem of so much importance in the argument, that I think it cannot be too much insisted upon in proof of its authenticity. It is an argument also that I prefer to all others, because it is plain and obvious, and is parallel to the apprehension of every reader. Upon the presumption that the verse in question be removed, there is an evident want of connection between the words immediately preceding and following it and the whole sense of the apostle's reasoning is lost. The verse preceding ends thus: "It is the Spirit that beareth witness because the Spirit is truth." Then follows the disputed text; "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one." To which is immediately added, "And there are three that bear witness on earth, the Spirit, the Water, and the Blood, and these three agree in one." As the whole now stands, the connection is unbroken, the sense perfect, and the apostle's reasoning clear and intelligible. But upon the supposition that the disputed passage be thrown out, the antithesis between the heavenly witnesses, and the earthly, is lost, and something to make out the correspondent sense of the whole, is evidently wanting. And as a further confirmation, what the apostle subjoins in the next verse is happily explanatory. "If we receive (says he) the witness of men, the witness of God is greater;" whereas upon the presumption that the verse in question is an interpolation, there is no witness of God mentioned before, in which the stress of the comparison is made. I cannot help thinking this argument to be so plain and convincing, that it almost supersedes the necessity of every other.
What is highly gratifying to the true believer is the consideration, that this passage in the writings of St. John, if genuine, corresponds to the pure doctrine "of the faith once delivered to the saints;" and if it be not genuine, that faith derives its stability from too many, and too well supported testimonies, to need any single evidence in its confirmation. But how necessary it must be to the Antitrinitarian cause, that the authenticity of the verse should not barely be questionable, but clearly proved to be spurious, is plain from this one consideration. Admitting it to be the real writing of the apostle John, and the long contest of ages is at once decided; "There are three that bear witness in heaven." And does the skepticism then of the Arian, the Socinian, and Unitarian, rest upon the bare possibility that this verse may not be genuine? It is far from my intention to give offence, but I would very humbly beg to recommend this view of the case, to the serious and candid consideration of those professors of Christianity. How perfectly well satisfied ought they to be, that the passage in question is a forgery, before they subscribe to the contrary persuasion: for if its authenticity be given up, the doctrine it contains remains the same; and if it be true, against it there can be no appeal. Back to reading.
4 The reader is desired to observe, that no arguments (unless incidentally noticed) are intended to be brought forward in this discourse, in proof of the Godhead of the Holy Ghost. This is reserved for the topic of another part of the work. The author wishes to advance by a regular gradation, through a chain of evidences which he hopes, with the divine blessing, may be at once convincing and unanswerable; first, to prove the certainty of the being of the Holy Ghost, from his evident operations in the world; and next, to show the testimonies of his personality, from the declarations of Scripture on this point. And he flatters himself that the evidences to this purport, which will be produced in the present and succeeding sermons, the boldest skeptic will hardly be able to confront or deny. From this foundation the superstructure will be in no danger of being thrown down. The Godhead of the Holy Ghost will immediately follow the assurance of his personality, and appear to be the natural and unavoidable consequence resulting therefrom. Should these proofs, however, lead any reader further than he expected, even to the admitting the truth of the Catholic doctrine, the author hopes that he will have candor enough to acknowledge the conviction, and will discern from what point the ray of divine grace poured the light of instruction upon his soul. If this be not granted, all reasoning is fruitless. The plainest truths must lose their power of persuasion, when the mind is resolutely shut against their admission. Reader! bring with thee at least this qualification, an heart sincerely disposed to seek the truth, with an humble waiting and dependence upon the teachings of the blessed Spirit; and then it may reasonably be hoped that the promise of our Lord will be fulfilled; "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free," (John 8:32). Back to reading.
5 Though the limits I must observe, to suit the time of preaching, oblige me to express myself with all possible brevity, in the body of the discourse; yet I hope I shall be pardoned for the liberty I have occasionally taken, in the introduction of the several notes, which are scattered through this work, upon particular passages, which seemed to demand this attention. The present is of this nature, and ought not, from the very interesting question involved in it, to be passed over unnoticed. It is possible, that these discourses may fall into the hands of some serious, but timid Christians, whose minds may have felt a considerable degree of apprehension, from the possibility of the commission of a sin, declared by the Son of God himself, to be totally irremissible. For the comfort and instruction of such, I would beg to subjoin an observation or two, which through divine assistance, may serve to explain the circumstances of the case, and in some measure relieve the mind from all unreasonable and improper anxiety upon this point.
It should be recollected, that when Christ expressed himself in those awful terms, concerning the blasphemy of the Holy Ghost, and declared it to be incapable of remission, he had been demonstrating one of the highest acts of Supreme power, in casting out a devil. The Scribes and Pharisees, in whose presence the miracle was wrought, were so lost to all grace, that in the most daring instance of profaneness they imputed it to the agency of the infernal spirit: to ascribe that, to the power of the devil, which was evidently among the extraordinary operations of the Holy Ghost, was blasphemy indeed! Upon this occasion, our divine Lord solemnly declared, that though "all manner of sin should be forgiven unto men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they might blaspheme," and adding, in still more endearing terms of compassion, that "whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven;" yet closes the account with this awful assurance, that "whosoever blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, neither in this world, neither in the world to come." Because (says the Evangelist) "they said he hath an unclean spirit:" this explanatory verse at the end of the sentence, very clearly defines the nature of the unpardonable sin, and shows most evidently in what it consisted; namely, that it was the willful and malicious perversion of truth, in ascribing to the agency of the devil, what was manifestly wrought by the power of the Holy Ghost; and therefore such horrible and daring blasphemy, proceeding from such a wicked disposition of mind, so effectually deprived the authors of it, from ever receiving in themselves those gracious operations of the Holy Ghost, by which alone "a spirit of grace and supplication" can be awakened in the mind: that from being hardened against compunction for their offence, it was impossible they could become suitable objects of mercy, and the sin continuing unrepented of, continued unpardoned. Hence it is very obvious that this denunciation of Christ, in its primary meaning, had a peculiar reference to the persons with whom he was then discoursing. But that either the crime or punishment threatened to it was so limited, that the commission and consequence of it in after ages, is impossible, God forbid that I should presume to say! It is exceedingly to be apprehended by what we behold in life, that from the same presumptuous reasonings and corrupt passions of the human mind, which gave birth to it originally among the Scribes and Pharisees, men may now walk but too near the confines of it. But while the possibility of its commission ought to have a very powerful effect upon persons of this complexion, to keep them from presumption; the distance by which humble minds are preserved through the grace of God, from such transgressions, may serve to convince the timid Christian, that his apprehensions concerning it are altogether ill-founded. They do in effect refute themselves. For if you fear, lest you should have incurred the unpardonable sin, your fears become the strongest assurance to the contrary. There are no apprehensions of this kind in the breast, where it hath been committed; there is no compunction, no sorrow of heart, but a total dereliction of the Holy Spirit; like that of the Pharisees of old, an indifference, an insensibility, distinguishes the conduct as much after transgression as before; and men live regardless hath of the heinousness of their sin, and of the departure of the blessed Spirit from them. "Ephraim is joined unto idols: let him alone!" How awful soever in the contemplation such a state is to the serious Christian, it must convince him, if he reflects at all, that it cannot be his own. Your fears and anxieties may be proper to induce humility, but they are at the same time the truest indications of your safety; for they spring not from nature, but from grace; and where grace reigns in the heart, the servant of God is kept "from presumptuous sins; and undefiled and innocent from the great offence." Back to reading.
6 As this view of things cannot but he replete with the fullest satisfaction, in the breast of every sincere believer; so must it be peculiarly so, to the faithful servant in Jesus, in the exercise of his sacred function. And I hope, my brethren in the ministry will forgive me, if I add, that I have been the more diffuse in may observations upon this important part of the Scripture, not barely by way of shoving its testimony to the point I had particularly in view, but of illustrating also a doctrine intimately connected with our sacred commission, and forming the very charter of the Christian church. To have proper conceptions of the dignity of each of the divine characters, in whose name he baptizes, cannot but be an object of the first magnitude, to everyone who is of the Holy Order; for humanity shudders with horror, at the idea of baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, while believing the Son to be a creature, and the Holy Ghost an emanation only of the Godhead. Back to reading.
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