The Holy Spirit
This book follows an invitation by the publisher to undertake a trilogy on the Trinitarian persons, stemming from my earlier work on the Holy Trinity (2004, 2019), especially the second edition. Further volumes on the Son and the Father are projected. I contemplate this with a sense of overwhelming responsibility. Something in me tells me that it is too much for one individual to give an account of the Holy Trinity in all its uniqueness and glory, and yet also to write of the three hypostases or “persons” distinctly. This is literally an awesome task, too great for a mere human to undertake. Yet God has made himself known to us. He has come among us in the person of his Son, living as man. He has poured out his Spirit upon us and within us. We can so speak; indeed, we must speak, if only through trembling and stammering lips. One thing is certain: this book, as all others on the subject, will be nowhere near adequate. John Stott often quoted the words of the great Charles Simeon, who upon entering the pulpit would remind himself: “One thing I know, I am a fool; of that I am certain.” We are all fools, for such wisdom as we have comes from the Holy Spirit alone.
In order to appreciate the presence and work of the Holy Spirit today, we need to ask how this has been seen over the past two thousand years of the church’s existence. Such a search is not a merely antiquarian exercise. It is vital for us to ensure that our own thinking is within the parameters shaped by more than fifty generations of those who have gone before us. How else can we be clear that our experience is demonstrably Christian? We have two millennia of accumulated wisdom, biblical exegesis, and concentrated thought to guide us. While not all of it may seem fruitful, much if not most will. It is absurd to assume that we must ground everything on our own exegesis of the Bible, while ignoring the cumulative wisdom of the people of God down through the ages. Attempting to reinvent the wheel is a fruitless exercise and has frequently led to serious error or even heresy. Consequently, as the Reformers and the Westminster divines did, I attempt to interact, not uncritically, with figures throughout history – the fathers and the medievals, from Rome, the Greek and Russian churches as well as Protestants, with Pentecostal and charismatic spokespersons too.
The Holy Spirit is one of the three Trinity hypostases or “persons,” fully God without remainder, of one identical and indivisible being with the Father and the Son. Together with the Father and the Son, the Spirit is to be worshiped and adored. The Spirit, together with the Father and the Son, is fully engaged in creation, providence and redemption. In all God’s works, the Spirit is active inseparably with the Father and the Son. Yet since each of God’s works is specifically the work of a particular Trinitarian person, so to the Spirit is attributed the effective power by which these works are accomplished. But we must always see this in the context of harmonious, united, and inseparable action. All our thought about the Holy Spirit, in terms of both the inner life of the Holy Trinity and also his works in creation, providence and grace, must proceed on this basis. The church’s recognition of these realities took time to develop and come to articulate expression. A knowledge of how that took place will help us put in perspective questions that arise in our own day.
The book has the following outline. The first section is a historical survey of discussion in the church. The focus here is that the Trinity is indivisible and so the works of the Spirit are inseparable from those of the Father and the Son. So when we consider the Spirit, we must not think of him as out on his own. The second section is biblical, tracing the pervasive and increasing stress on the Spirit in creation, the history of redemption, the life and ministry of Christ, the work of the apostles, and the establishment of the church, ultimately extending to our own transformation and eventual resurrection. The book comes to its climax with a short chapter that asks how we are to discern where the Spirit is clearly at work. Finally, I have included an appendix on modern developments relating to our understanding of the Spirit.
There has been a welter of discussion on the Spirit in recent decades, some of which is still a matter of debate, difference, and sometimes controversy, but the book does not focus on such territory. I do not want the discussion to be shaped by a problem but by the reality disclosed to the consensus of the faithful. Nor do I wish to be confrontational. The intention is to develop a holistic and canonical view of the Holy Spirit in the context of the Trinity, the person and work of Christ, and redemption. Not that we shy away from disputed matters – by no means. The appendix in part addresses these.
I hope that this book will be of some benefit to those who read it, whether they are pastors, students, scholars or regular church members.
Robert Letham. The Holy Spirit. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 2023. This is based on the author’s introduction to the book.