21. The Giver of Life

R.J. Rushdoony • Mar, 19 2024

Know someone who would find this encouraging?

  • Series: Aspects of Systematic Theology
  • Topics:

Our Scripture this morning is Genesis 1:1-2. Our subject ‘the giver of life.’ We begin this morning a series of studies in the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. And what we have to say this morning is going to be largely by way of introduction to this very, very important and much neglected doctrine. Genesis 1:1-2.

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” 1

There is a strange aspect to church history, it is the relatively minor role given to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The theological discussions thereof have been quite limited. This is strange, because in Scripture, the Holy Spirit is the most in evidence of three persons of the Trinity. He is there and basic to creation. Revelation throughout the Scripture is given by the Holy Spirit. He is there in the conception of our Lord Jesus Christ, at Pentecost, and through Revelation. Of the three persons of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is not only the one most in evidence in Scripture, but He is also the one we have the most with whom to do.

Moreover, when theology does deal with this doctrine, the role of the Spirit varies from a displacing and total power, to that of a vague and impersonal influence. Now, however, the church is compelled, however reluctantly, in the generations to come to think about the doctrine of the Spirit; to give renewed theological emphasis and interest to it.

The rise of the Charismatic movement forces this upon the church. Now as you know I am not Charismatic, and yet we must say that the rise of this movement is important in that in the history of the development of doctrine, its place will be important for compelling the church to give renewed emphasis to this doctrine.

Thus far, of course, the debate on both sides has been localized; it has been made man-centered. The question at stake largely has been the issue of tongues, and I would not deny that this is an important doctrine, it is important to know what we think of it. But it is not anywhere as near as important as the doctrine of the nature and the person of the Holy Spirit Himself. Our concern therefore as we deal with the doctrine of the Spirit in the weeks and months ahead will not be centered on the manifestations, but on the Spirit Himself.

Let us look first by way of survey at the confessions of the church through the centuries, and what they have to say concerning the doctrine of the Spirit. At the beginning there is a confessional poverty. In the Apostles’ Creed we read simply: “I believe in the Holy Ghost.” That is all. In the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381 in its later and completed form, we read:

“And I believe in the Holy Ghost,

The Lord, and Giver of life,

Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son,

Who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified,

Who spake by the Prophets.”

The Athanasian Creed of course centers on the doctrine of the Trinity to a great extent, and the doctrine of the unity of the Trinity. It also says specifically with regard to the Holy Spirit:

23. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son: neither made, nor created, nor begotten: but proceeding.

24. So there is one Father, not three Fathers: one Son, not three Sons: one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.

25. And in this Trinity none is afore, or after another: none is greater, or less than another [there is nothing before, or after: nothing greater or less].

Now, to a degree, this very limited emphasis on the Holy Spirit (and I have summed up the Creedal statements concerning it in the early church) this limited emphasis is in one sense understandable. The early church began in a Jewish context, and the battle was over the doctrine of Jesus Christ as Lord and savior, as Messiah. Hence the confessional emphasis was on the doctrine of Christ. Moreover, the church made a dangerous assumption. It presumed that the synagogue was agreed with it on the doctrine of the Father and the Spirit. But the fact is that the inability of the synagogue to accept Christ was because it had departed from the doctrine of the Father and the Spirit. As a result, these could not have been called, properly, ‘agreed doctrines;’ although the early church did so assume. Moreover, especially after the New Testament period, the synagogue moved further and further away from a biblical position, and widened the breach between itself, and the church.

Similarly, too often the early church assumed that the pagans when they spoke of ‘God’ and ‘the Spirit of God’ had in some sense a similar meaning. But the word ‘God’ and ‘Spirit’ have different meanings in different cultures and religions, and as a result their neglect of these doctrines, especially the doctrine of the Spirit, was in serious error, a deadly omission.

With the Reformation, of course, the emphasis was especially on the doctrine of salvation, on justification, and on the doctrine of the church; ecclesiology. As a result, some of the other doctrines such as the doctrine of the Spirit, did tend to be neglected. However, there was some confessional attention given, and a growing one, as far as the doctrine of the Spirit was concerned. Thus Luther’s Small Catechism has this to say:

“I believe that I can not, by my own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him; but the Holy Ghost has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me by his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in the true faith; just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church he daily forgives richly all my sins, and the sins of all believers; and will raise up me and all the dead at the last day, and will grant everlasting life to me and to all who believe in Christ. This is most certainly true.” 2

The Heidelberg Catechism in 1563 in question fifty-three asks:

Q. What dost thou believe concerning the Holy Ghost?

A. First, that he is true and coeternal God with the Father and the Son; secondly, that he is also given me,b to make me by a true faith, partaker of Christ and all his benefits, that he may comfort med and abide with me for ever. 3

The French Confession of faith of 1559 cited the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and declared:

“We know these books to be canonical, and the sure rule of our faith, not so much by the common accord and consent of the Church, as by the testimony and inward illumination of the Holy Spirit, which enables us to distinguish them from other ecclesiastical books upon which, however useful, we can not found any articles of faith.” 4

This same confession went on in article twenty-one to say:

“We believe that we are enlightened in faith by the secret power of the Holy Spirit, that it is a gratuitous and special gift which God grants to whom he will, so that the elect have no cause to glory, but are bound to be doubly thankful that they have been preferred to others.” 5

Some of the other confessions of the time did not particularly advance, but merely summed up what these said such as the Belgic Confession, and the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England. The same was true of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Perhaps the fullest statement came from the Scottish Confession, a long statement which is in a Scottish dialect, and I will not attempt to read. 6 But it is an important one in that it speaks of the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in not only regenerating us, but sanctifying and preserving us.

In the last century, in 1848, the Confession of the Evangelical Free Churches of Geneva united the doctrine of the Spirits work of salvation, with the doctrine of election, and it declared:

“We believe that the Holy Ghost applies to the chosen ones, by means of the Word, the salvation which the Father has destined for them and which the Son has bought, so that, uniting them to Jesus by, faith, he dwells in them, delivers them from the sway of sin, makes them understand the Scriptures, consoles them and seals them for the day of redemption.” 7

Then finally in 1876 in this country, the Reformed Episcopal church in America expanded the Thirty-Nine Articles affirmation concerning the Spirit, declaring:

“The Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty, and glory with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God.

It is the work of the Holy Ghost to reprove and convince the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment; to take of the things of Christ and show them to men ; to regenerate-making men willing, leading them to faith in Christ, and forming Christ in them the hope of glory ; to strengthen them with might in their inner man, that Christ may dwell in their hearts by faith; and. to secure in them that walking in the ways of God which is called the Fruit of the Spirit. The true Church is thus called out of the world, and is builded together for au habitation of God, through the Spirit.” 8

Now, these statements are very, very important; because what we have is a growing awareness of the centrality of the Spirit in the life of faith, of the believer and of the church. And yet at the same time, the Spirit whom as we see is the most present in Scripture, the continuing presence of God in the world, is the one whom people think the least about. The doctrine of the Spirit as far as the practical life of the church is concerned, has very limited attention.

The twentieth century has been a poor time for any doctrinal emphasis on the Spirit. The Presbyterian Church USA in 1902-3 added a special article on the doctrine of the Spirit which actually weakened the doctrine. The twentieth century teachings and emphasis on the Spirit have been largely Arminian, rather than Calvinistic. This is a strange fact, we have a tremendous contradiction here. The Holy Spirit most clearly manifests the person and the power of the Trinity. The emphasis on the Spirit should be one which in a sense one might say, out-Calvins Calvin! But this is not the case. Why? The Spirit is the one who is most closely in Scripture associated not only with the giving of the Word, but with the Word. And yet too often the doctrine of the Spirit in our time has been separated from the Word, as though the Spirit speaks and acts in independence of His Word.

Let us look briefly at some of the problems which have faced people as they deal with the doctrine of the Spirit. Too often, men confuse sovereignty and transcendence - certainly this is true in the theology of Karl Barth, his ‘transcendence’ is not a true transcendence of course, but we need not go into that here. And for Barth, God is only truly God if He is ‘wholly other,’ so remote from man that there is no contact between God and man. That kind of thinking is not uncommon among men.

But the fact remains; where there is no strong doctrine of the Spirit, then the church replaces the Spirit in Christian thought. You have institutional controls replacing the Spirit and His government. This is a fact of deadly consequence. It means, therefore, that the church in doctrine to all practical intent replaces the third person of the Trinity, and power is fed into the hands of the church. Moreover, when the doctrine of the Spirit is not in union with the sovereignty of God, human activity and human enthusiasm, human emotionalism, seeks to create the Spirit-activity in men.

Thus both Charismatics and anti-Charismatics too often stress man; institutional controls in the one case, and effects in man in another - emotional charges in man. The true starting point with respect to the Spirit is in the Bible, and in the Spirit Himself. But we have a problem when we go to the Bible; man is a material being, we are flesh and blood. The Spirit is a difficult concept for man to comprehend. We are told in John 4:24 “God is a Spirit” But we are also told that God the Father is ‘the Father’ and that the second person of the Trinity is ‘God the Son.’ On top of that we have the incarnation of God the Son, so that the first and the second persons of the Trinity become comprehensible to us to a limited degree, because the concept of ‘Father’ is something we can comprehend; it gives us as it were an emotional and an intellectual handle, a grasp, on the comprehension of God the Father, the first person of the Trinity. With the second person of the Trinity - God the Son, we have His incarnation and His self-declaration, and there too man is not left helpless as it were.

But the Spirit and His titles leave man intellectually at sea. The titles refer almost to functions - He is the comforter, He is our advocate. As a result, many see the Spirit as remote, as abstract. But the fault in so doing is in man. Moreover, as we turn to Scripture, the mystery deepens. We read:

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” 9

The word ‘moved’ there is translated: ‘brooded, covered.’ The earth was an unshaped nothing, an abyss, a void, a sea, a vacuity, a darkness; and the Spirit of God moved, or brooded, or hovered, depending on the scholar. The great Hebrew scholar Cassuto said that ‘hovered’ is the best meaning, and he paraphrases the sentence thus:

“Although the earth was without form or life, yet above the unformed matter hovered the ruah of God, the source of light and life.” 10

Now the word translated as ‘Spirit’ means ‘breath or wind’ but in terms of the Hebrew, as Lenski and others have pointed out, it very clearly refers to a person - one who is the creator of life, of light, and of order. We have a series of divine fiats that follow: “Let there be, and there was.” And in all of this the Spirit of God at work. The presence of the Spirit is inescapable life, light, and order. In Genesis 6:3 we read:

“And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.” 11

The Spirit is clearly linked to life, without being identical with it. He is the creator and the giver of life, and yet when we say that there is still a mystery. The great unformed mass of creation, the Spirit of God hovering over it and bringing it to life, and the successive stages of creation, and the fact that it is the Spirit that strives with man, that gives life and withdraws it, that gives the Spirit of prophecy, who is vexed by man’s rebellion, and turns on men to be their enemy, and to fight against them, as Isaiah 63:10 and Ephesians 4:30 tell us. We have the Spirit of God, thus, as God the creator, the giver of life. Very very present in all of creation, yet totally separate and beyond from it. We have thus neither Pantheism nor Deism given an ounce of comfort by the doctrine of the Spirit.

But man now sees God as distant, and the Spirit as vague, as sporadic, because other gods rule over men. Institutions and persons in the modern world have become the lords and givers of life, and as a result the doctrine of the Spirit has lost its biblical force. The revival of Christianity depends on the revival of interest in the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and in the Holy Spirit Himself. Why? Because the doctrine of the Spirit confronts us with the mystery and the person of God, He is beyond our comprehension. The universe is more than we can grasp or understand. When we are told that space is finite yet infinite, our mind staggers. We find that modern astrophysics can only deal with the universe in terms of mathematical computations, it boggles the imagination - and yet the universe is as nothing before the greatness of God. And it is the doctrine of the Holy Spirit that we come face-to-face with God who is most present to us, and God in His most mysterious and transcendent form and power. Yet He speaks our language, for He made it, and He made us.

Man likes to reduce all things to the measure of his mind and his need, and so he tries to do with the God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. But the Spirit eludes that kind of reductionism. The Spirit points beyond us, and beyond the grasp of our minds to tell us God is indeed beyond the comprehension and the understanding of man. And yet we can know God truly because all the vast reaches of His being are manifested in every little act of His, and in Jesus Christ His Son. Thus, the greatness of the being of God as well as the unity, all this is revealed in the doctrine of the Spirit. And so it is that if the church is to conquer in the days ahead, if the church is to fulfill its calling and to be filled with that faith and power which overcomes the world, it must renew itself in terms of the Spirit. It must know and understand Him with whom we have the most to do in the being of God, the third person, the Holy Spirit.

Thus, the future depends upon the willingness of the church to know the Spirit.

Let us pray.

* * *

Almighty God our heavenly Father who of thy grace and mercy has called us to be thy people, and made us temples of the Holy Spirit, open our understanding to the greatness of what thou hast done, so that we may indeed show forth the glory and majesty of thy Word and salvation, and the power of the Spirit in our lives. Grant us this we beseech thee. In Jesus' name, amen.

* * *

Are there any questions now, first of all on our lesson? Yes?

[Audience Member] Could you deal with the dispute between the Roman and the Greek church on the Holy Spirit?

[Rushdoony] Yes, I deal with the dispute between the Eastern and Western churches over the procession of the Spirit in The Foundations of Social Order. It was a very, very important dispute. The Western church in a sense, without authorization from the entire church in council, as was common then, added the procession of the Spirit from the Son to the doctrine of the procession of the Spirit from the Father. Now the Son Himself declares in John that He will send another comforter, so that it was with good scriptural warrant. The implication of it in Eastern thought was an implicit subordinationism, instead of an equality of persons in the godhead they had a subordinationism, so that the Son and the Spirit were subordinate to the Father. It was Athanasianism and Augustinianism which led, particularly in the Council of Orange, to the affirmation of the procession of the Spirit from the Son as well.

Now it is not surprising therefore that because of this subordinationism in the Eastern Churches, it was the Eastern Churches that readily surrendered - not too readily - but they did surrender to Caesaropapism; to a subordination of the church to the state. Because in the thinking of the day, the Father was the agent of creation and therefore the state was the creation of the Father since the state was a natural order; the church was the creation of the Son, a supernatural creation, and because the Son supposedly is subordinate to the Father, the church must be subordinate to the State. Now that was the reasoning that was the outcome of this failure to assert the equal procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son, and the Athanasian Creed makes clear, not only their equal procession, but that there is no before, after, above or beneath, any degree of variation in the three persons. Does that help answer your question? Any other questions now?

[Audience Member] You reminded me when you were speaking about that, there was a place in the New Testament, I can’t put my finger on it, but I know the essence of it, someone asked Jesus the question, and He said: “Why ask me? There is none holy but the Father.” And so He puts Himself on the lower rank?

[Rushdoony] Yes, at one point our Lord is asked by someone a question, calling Him: “Good master,” “Good Rabbi.” And our Lord said:

“Why callest thou me good? There is none good save God alone?” 12

The point is of course, that to this man who did not know who Jesus was, for him to exalt a man to a position of authority, you see, was false. So our Lord was saying: “God alone is the authority. Now if you had come to me as God, knowing me, it would be one thing; but you are coming to me as a teacher. And if you come to me as a teacher with a question as though I were the source and my being were goodness itself, you could go to another man the same way.” And of course that was precisely what our Lord was denying was valid; they had to go to God and His Word. So, it was not an example of subordinationism, but striking at a false doctrine of authority in the man who spoke.

[Audience Member] I have found that some pentecostals, or neo-pentecostals also call themselves ‘apostolic.’ Furthermore, I read an article that points out that the Greek word for ‘tongues’ means a foreign language, and yet not one charismatic supposedly ‘speaking in tongues’ can demonstrate that they are, in fact, speaking in a foreign language.

[Rushdoony] Yes, there is a great deal of the use of the word ‘apostolic’ in a variety of contexts. Now, it is sometimes used in the context of ‘possessing the same powers or gifts as the apostles.’ It is also used in certain traditions as meaning that there has been a transmission from Bishop to Bishop of a given authority. This was a matter which was discussed to a very interesting degree in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in the church of England. And at that time some of the English theologians put their finger on another aspect which I think is a very important one, they said: “Apostolic means the same faith as the apostles.” And so the apostolic transmission is of the faith, not of an office or a power, and so a church which has apostolic authority is one which teaches what the Apostles taught. Now it would be a happy thing if that concept revived again in most churches, including the church of England today, but there were some excellent statements to that effect. There is a book on the teachings of the English church fathers which does go into that. Yes?

[Audience Member] Do we pray to the Trinity through the Holy Spirit?

[Rushdoony] We pray to the Father in the name of the Son, and in the Spirit. And we are told that the Spirit prays within us in groanings that cannot be uttered, so that the Spirit also moves us to pray. So in prayer all three persons of the Trinity are involved. Yes?

[Audience Member] To the Holy Spirit is ascribed the sustaining powers of reality? In particular in this passage, “the Holy Spirit moved on the waters,” does that mean the Holy Spirit has a special prerogative of sustaining reality?

[Rushdoony] Yes, we will come to that subsequently, He does. Yes?

[Audience Member] To whom does ‘the Angel of the Lord’ refer?

[Rushdoony] The Angel of the Lord refers to the second person of the Trinity.

Well, let us bow our heads now for the benediction.

* * *

And now go in peace, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, bless you and keep you, guide and protect you, this day and always, amen.

1 Ge 1:1–2.

2 Schaff, P. (1882). The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The Evangelical Protestant Creeds, with Translations (Vol. 3, p. 80). Harper & Brothers.

3 Historic Creeds and Confessions (electronic ed.). (1997). Lexham Press.

4 Schaff, P. (1882). The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The Evangelical Protestant Creeds, with Translations (Vol. 3, p. 362). Harper & Brothers.

5 Schaff, P. (1882). The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The Evangelical Protestant Creeds, with Translations (Vol. 3, p. 371). Harper & Brothers.

6 “Our faith and its assurance do not proceed from flesh and blood, that is to say, from natural powers within us, but are the inspiration of the Holy Ghost; whom we confess to be God, equal with the Father and with His Son, who sanctifies us, and brings us into all truth by His own working, without whom we should remain forever enemies to God and ignorant of His Son, Christ Jesus. For by nature we are so dead, blind, and perverse, that neither can we feel when we are pricked, see the light when it shines, nor assent to the will of God when it is revealed, unless the Spirit of the Lord Jesus quicken that which is dead, remove the darkness from our minds, and bow our stubborn hearts to the obedience of His blessed will. And so, as we confess that God the Father created us when we were not, as His Son our Lord Jesus redeemed us when we were enemies to Him, so also do we con- fess that the Holy Ghost does sanctify and regenerate us, without respect to any merit proceeding from us, be it before or be it after our regeneration. To put this even more plainly; as we willingly disclaim any honour and glory for our own creation and redemption, so do we willingly also for our regeneration and sanctification; for by ourselves we are not Capable of thinking one good thought, but He who has begun the work in us alone continues us in it, to the praise and glory of His undeserved grace.” Cochrane, Arthur C., ed. “The Scottish Confession of Faith - 1560 - Chapter XII - Faith in the Holy Ghost.” In Reformed Confessions of the 16th Century. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003.

7 Schaff, P. (1882). The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The Evangelical Protestant Creeds, with Translations (Vol. 3, p. 784). Harper & Brothers.

8 Philip Schaff. The Creeds of Christendom. Vol. 3. 3 vols. New York, 1877, 815.

9 Ge 1:1–2.

10 Umberto Cassuto: A Commentary on the Book of Genesis, Part I. (Jerusalem, Israel: The Magnes Press, The Hebrew University, (1961) 1972). p. 25.

11 Ge 6:3.

12 Luke 18:19.

More Series