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ON THE USE AND MEANING OF THE PHRASE,
“ HOLY SPIRIT."
There is perhaps no term or phrase of frequent occurence in the New Testament, with which readers in general are more perplexed, and concerning the meaning of which they feel more doubtful, than that of "holy ghost”, or “ holy spin.” We see the words printed in our Bibles, and in other books, in capitals, or with capital initials, and it gives us the impression of a person or agent of high dignity; at the same time that the connexion in wbich it stands, and the scope of the passage, often assure us, that a person cannot be intended.
Two observations occur in the outset in our examination into the use and meaning of holy spirit, in the writings of the New Testament. The first is, that we find several other forms of expression, such as, spirit of God, spirit of the Lord, spirit of Christ, and spirit alone, to be used in the same sense as holy spirit, or holy ghost. The following is an example, in which tbree of the above phrases are, in a single sentence, used to mean the same thing, whatever it be, as "the holy ghost,” which is in other passages often represented to be in christians, and to dwell in them. Rom. viii. 9. “Ye are not in the flesh, but in the spirit, if so be that the spirit of God dwell in you : now if any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his. But if Christ be in you, &c.”
The second observation is, that we do not find the phrase in question, nor either of the synonymous phrases to have one uniform sense in which it is always used. On the contrary, we soon discover, when we come to read with a careful atteotion to its use, that it has several meanings, which in each case are to be learned only from the connexion in which it stands, and the scope of the passage in which it is found.
This observation will be supported by mentioning a few of the several senses, in which it may be shewn, that the holy spirit, and other parallel phrases, are used by the sacred writers.
1. In the first place, each of the phrases in question is sometimes used for God himself. The true meaning, in this use of it, the more readily occurs on account of its analogy to a similar mode of expression, which we have in constant use. the spirit of a man. Now by the spirit of a man, or a man's spirit, no one ever dreams of any thing else being intended but the man himself. “I am glad," said Paul to the Corinthians, (1 Cor. xvi. 17, 18.) of the coming of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaiacus, for they have refreshed my spirit and yours.'
That is, they have refreshed me and yon. Equally obvious is the meaning of the following texts : (Gal. vi. 18.) “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” (2 Tim. iv. 22.) “ The Lord Jesus Christ be with thy spirit," i.e. be with thee. Again, (1 Cor. ii. 11.) “What man kpoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of a man, that is in him ?” In this, as in the preceding instances, we are at no loss what we are to understand by the spirit of a man. It is the man himself. Now, when, proceeding in the use of the same language, he says in the following verse, “even so the things of God knoweth no one, but the spirit of God;" can there be any doubt, whether be applies the same language in a similar manner, meaning by it, none but God himself knoweth them?
This use of holy spirit and spirit of God, we meet with not upfrequently in the Old Testament. (Psalm cxxxix. 7.): “Whither shall I go from thy spirit?” i. e. from thee; for he immediately adds ;– If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there." The prophet Isaiab, (lxiii. 10.) speaking of the ingratitude of the people of Israel to God for their distinguished blessings, says, "They rebelled and vexed his holy spirit.” By comparing this passage with others in which the same conduct is referred to, we are left at no loss in what sense we are to understand his holy spirit here. Thus in the history of the transactions, (Nom. xiv. 11.) we learn, that when the Israelites, hearing the report of those, who bad been sent forward to search the land of Canaan, were on the point of revolting, and returning back to Egypt, “ The Lord said unto Moses, how long will this people provoke me ?” And in the Psalms which were composed in reference to these same transactions, in which this spirit of ingratitude and rebellion, which burst forth on several occasions, is alluded to ; it is said, (Psl. Ixxviii. 56.) “ They tempted and provoked the Most High God.” (Psl. xcv. 9.) "Your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works.' These passages are evidently parallel, and intended to convey the same meaning. The historian, the sacred poet, and the prophet, referring to the same transaction, unquestionably meant to represent the same person, as the object of it, by the se. veral terms, Jehovah, Most High God, and his holy spirit.
That this is the most usual meaning of the spirit of God in the Old Testament, I believe, will hardly admit a question. is also as uniformly the meaning of my spirit, his spirit, and thy spirit, whenever they occur in reference to God. When God speaks of his spirit, we have as little apprehension that another person, distinct from the speaker, is intended, as when a man speaks of his spirit. Nor is this use of the spirit of God,
and the holy spirit, confined to the Old Testament. Very clear and decisive instances of it occur in the New. “Know ye not, says Paul, (1 Cor. vi. 19.) that your body is the temple of the holy ghost ?” That by the holy ghost is here meant God himself, appears from two or three parallel passages. (1 Cor. iii. 16.) “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God?” (2 Cor. vi. 16.) “ Ye are the temple of the living God, as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them.”
2. There is, in the second place, a class of texts, in which the phrases in question appear to be used, not to express the person of God, as in the preceding cases, but the power of God, his wisdom, bis will, or his command. (Micb. ii. 7.) “Is the spirit of the Lord straitened?” (Is. lix. 1.) “Behold the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save.” These texts are evidently parallel, intended to express the same meaning, There can be no doubt that the former prophet, by the spirit of the Lord, meant the same, as the latter did by the Lord's hand; viz. his power. Is the power of Jehovah restrained ?
In one of the eloquent replies of Job, (xxvi. 12, 13.) a remarkable instance occurs, in which, speaking of the majesty of God, and his wonderful works, the turn of expression is varied four times, without changing its meaning, in a single sentence. “ He divided the sea by bis power, and by his understanding he smiteth through the proud: by his spirit he hath garnished the heavens, his hand bath formed the crooked serpent." The intelligent reader needs no comment on this passage. He understands the same divine operation to be expressed, and not four distinct persons to be intimated, by the several terms power, understanding, spirit, and hand. In a similar manner, in the following passage, (Psl. xxxiii. 6.) “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath, or spirit, of his mouth,''-—he understands the word, in one part of the sentence, and the breath or spirit in the other, to meanthe same thing, viz: that divine energy by which all things were brought into being. It may be proper, however, to inform the reader, unlearned in polemic divinity, that this interpretation is not assented to by all. · Some bave discovered in this text the three persons of the trinity: the first person, the Father, designated by the term Lord, or Jehovah; the second, or the Son, by the word; the third, or the Holy Ghost, by the breath, or spirit.
Whether such interpretations are calculated to do honuor to the scriptures, the common sense of sober enquirers will determine.
Our Saviour, reasoning with the Jews respecting his authority as a divine teacher, and the power by which he wrought
miracles, said to them, (Matt. xii. 28.) “If I cast out demons by the spirit of God, then is the kingdom of God come unto you.” By another Evangelist, (Luke xi. 20.) he is represented, on the same occasion, as saying, “ If I with the finger of God cast out demons, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you.” The two forms of expression then, spirit of God and finger of God, were understood by the Evangelists to mean the same thing. What that meaning was, we learn from our Saviour, when he said on another occasion, (Jobn xiv. 10.) "The Father that dwelleth in me, be doth the works." We have it confirmed also by Peter, in his speech on the day of Pentecost. (Acts ii. 22.) “Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles, and signs, and wonders, which God did by him." Tbe spirit of God then, and the finger of God, were the power of God, or God himself, the Father, dwelling in Jesus Christ.
Similar examples of the use of the spirit of God for the power of God, might be multiplied. One more only shall be mentioned. (2 Cor. iii. 3.) “Ye are the epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” The allusion in this text is to the two tables received by Moses on Mount Sinai, on which were written the ten commandments. Now turning to the account of this transaction in Exodus and Deuteronomy, (Ex. xxxi. 18, Deut. ix. 10.) we find them there declared to be written with the finger of God. The Apostle therefore probably meant the same thing, when he said, written by the spirit of God. Each was intended to express an effect produced supernaturally, by the power of God himself.
3. The terms under consideration are used, again, sometimes to express a single gift or endowment, such as, power, wis. dom, courage, or skill in some art,--whether properly miraculous, or only possessed in an extraordinary degree, so as to qualify the person for some special office or service. Thus is the bodily strength of Sampson spoken of, and the impulse by which he exerted it;-the valour and intrepidity of Othniel, of Jephtha, and of Gideon, in conducting the armies of their country, and delivering it from the power of its enemies. In each instance it is said, the spirit of the Lord, came upon him. (Judges xiv. 5, 6. iii. 10. xi. 29. vi. 84.)
A similar mode of expression is applied to Moses and Joshua in reference to the wisdom and skill, with which they conducted the nation, administered its affairs, and settled it in the promised land. Particularly, when the seventy elders were appointed to relieve Moses from a part of the burden of govern. ment, of which he complained, as being greater than be could bear. (Num. xi. 16, 17.) “The Lord said unto Moses, I will take of the spirit, which is upon thee, and will put it upon them.” There can be no doubt, I think, what is here meant. It was not, that something was literally to be taken from Moses on that occasion, and given to the elders who were to be his assistants : nor that an exalted person or being was to depart from him, and reside in them. They were to be qualified for the office to which they were to be appointed, and fitted for its duties, by possessing talents resembħing bis ; by being endowed, as he was, with eminent wisdom, integrity, meekness, and impartiality.
Another instance of a similar application of the phrase spirit of God, occurs in the account we have of the desigpation of persons to construct the tabernacle and its surniture. It is applied to that ingenuity and mechanical skill, by which Bezaleel and A holiab were qualiñed to superintend the work, and to onderstand all the directions, and to execute the commands, which Moses had received. It was said, (Ex. xxxi. 1, 7.) “ That they were filled with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to devise cunning work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, in cutting of stone, in carving of wood, in the work of the engraver, the weaver, and the embroiderer.” Expressions of similar import are apo plied also to all those, whom they were directed to teach the skill which they possessed in these arts, and to employ as as. sistants in executing the work. (Ex. xxxvi. 1, 2.)
In the writings of the prophets, the expressions continually occur of “giving, sending, pouring out the spirit of God," not in such a manner as to lead to the thought, that a person
is intended; but sometimes to express the grant of a gift, power, privilege, or blessing, and sometimes a disposition produced, iemper imparted, or change of moral character.
A similar application of the language and terms in question runs through ihe New Testament. They are used to express the power, by which our Saviour performed miracles in proof of his divine mission; and the powers and gifts also, which were imparted to his Apostles after his ascension, by which they were qualified to go forth into the world, with knowledge and courage to execute their commission, and with supernatural powers to support their claims as divine messengers; to prove (John xvii. 18.) that they were sent into the world by Christ, as he was sent into the world by the Father.
What was meant by the promise of the Comforter ; (John xvi. 7.) the holy ghost with which they were to be baptized; (Acts i. 5.) they learned, when they found themselves, after