By Daniel Steele
THE PERSONALITY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.
IT may be impossible to give an exhaustive and accurate definition of personality as applied to the distinctions in the Godhead. The term "person," borrowed from the stage as its Latin derivation shows, per and sonare, to sound through, or to speak through a mask, hence a character in a play, may not be the best word to denote these distinctions. Be that as it may, the Christian world has accepted it, and it is now impossible for any one man to displace it by a better word. As applied to a human being, it implies that the body is not the real man, but the spirit which acts through the material organism. Thus we infer that spirituality is one element of personality, which implies self-consciousness, intelligence, desire, moral discrimination, identity and freedom of will. To these attributes of personality we may add power, or causality, which cannot originate in matter. The free agent in a limited sphere is a first cause. He causes his own moral acts. He is the sole creator of character.
Now if we examine the Holy Scriptures we will find that these marks of personality are all applied to the Holy Spirit. This is not clearly seen in the Old Testament, though when it is read in the light of the New it is manifestly there also. We know that there are personifications of qualities in Hebrew poetry, and that Wisdom is described figuratively as speaking and acting as a person dwelling with God from eternity, and giving counsel to Him in creation. But in the Gospels and Epistles we have no poetic flights of the imagination, but the most simple prose statement of facts and truths. "There is no trace of poetry in the last discourse of Jesus in the solemn and tender hour between the Paschal supper and the agony in the garden, when He sought to prepare His disciples for the sadness, loneliness, despair and fear which they would experience in a few hours. Then He used no dark parables, no vague generalizations, no doleful elegies. He spoke plainly and definitely of another Comforter to take His place, do the same work that He had done in teaching and guiding, and that He would stay forever." He would be a presence, a person who though invisible would be really nearer to them than He had been, because He would be in them, more than compensating for the withdrawal of His bodily form. Note the personal pronouns relating to the Holy Spirit in the following brief promise, " I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Paraclete, that he [not it] may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the Father will send in my name; whom the world cannot receive, because it knoweth him not: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you. He shall teach you all things." Count the times the masculine personal pronoun is used, he and him. We are aware that pneuma, spirit, is grammatically neuter, but it has no more a neuter signification when applied to the Comforter than it has when applied to man (I Cor. ii. 11) and to God the Father (John iv. 24). Hence the pronoun relating to the Holy Spirit should never be it or itself as in Rom. viii. 16, rightly changed to himself in the Revised Version. In the words "He shall glorify me," by no just law of interpretation can personality be denied of the first word while predicated of the last.
Says Dr. John Owen: "It is impossible to prove the Father to be a Person, or the Son to be a Person, in any other way than we may prove the Holy Ghost to be so. For He to whom all personal properties, attributes, adjuncts and operations are ascribed, and to whom nothing is ascribed but what properly belongs to a person, He is a Person; and so are we taught to believe Him to be. Thus we know the Father to be a Person, and the Son also. . . . There is no personal property belonging to the divine nature that is not equally ascribed to the Holy Ghost." "The Holy Ghost spake" (Acts i. 16); "it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost" (Mark xiii. 11). The Paraclete speaks of Himself as having authority in the Church. "The Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them." In their journey Paul and Silas "were forbidden by the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia." The Holy Ghost made elders at Ephesus, "bishops to feed the church of God" (Acts xx. 28). Such verbs as these describe His personal acts. He teaches, comforts, guides, sanctifies, testifies, glorifies, distributes gifts as He wills, makes intercession and is grieved. "If a wise and honest man should come and tell you that in a certain country where he has been there is an excellent governor who wisely discharges the duties of his office, who hears causes, discerns right, distributes justice, relieves the poor and comforts the distressed, would you not believe that he intended by this description a righteous, wise, diligent, intelligent person? Could you imagine him to mean that the sun or the wind, by their benign influences, rendered the country fruitful and temperate, and disposed the inhabitants to mutual kindness and benignity; and that the governor is a mere figure of speech? It is exactly thus in the case before us The Scriptures tell us that the Holy Spirit governs the Church, appoints overseers, discerns, comforts, strengthens and disposes all things according to the counsel of His own will. Can any man credit this testimony and conceive otherwise of the Spirit than as a holy, wise, intelligent Person? Can such expressions refer to quality, an effect or influence of the power of God, who doeth all these things figuratively; that He has a will and understanding figuratively, is sinned against figuratively, and so of all that is said of Him?
"It is true that some things peculiar to persons are sometimes ascribed to things; as charity is said to hope, to believe, to bear; the Scripture is said to see and foresee, to speak and to judge. The heavens and the earth are said to hear, and the fields to be joyful, and the trees to clap their hands. But these ascriptions are only occasional, and a plain description of the things themselves is given us in other places. But as to the Spirit of God, the constant uniform expressions concerning Him are such as declare Him to be a Person, endowed with all personal properties." 1
Our final proof of the personality of the Spirit is derived from the requirement of faith, which is the only door through which God comes into the human soul. The stronger the faith the larger the capacity to receive the divine guest. Faith attains its highest vigor when it grasps a personal object and not an abstraction, the blesser and not the blessing. God in Christ awakens faith in a higher degree than the attempted conception of an infinite Being boundless and vague. Faith culminates in its strength where it addresses a personal Father revealed in a personal incarnate Son and claims the personal Paraclete. Grace then flows into the soul in largest streams, in Mississippi's and Amazons "of living water." Hear the testimony of a professor in Cambridge University, England:2 "If reference to personal experience may be permitted, I may indeed 'here set my seal.' Never shall I forget the gain to conscious faith and peace which came to my soul not long after a first decisive and appropriating view of the crucified Lord as the sinner's sacrifice of peace, from a more intelligent and conscious hold upon the living and most gracious personality of that Holy Spirit through whose mercy the soul had got that blessed view. It was a new development of insight into the love of God. It was a new contact as it were with the inner and eternal movements of redeeming goodness and power, a new discovery in divine resources. At a 'time of finding,' gratitude and love and adoration gain a new, a newly realized reason and motive power and rest. He who with His secret skill, and with a power not the less almighty because it violates nothing, has awakened and regenerated the man, now shines before his inner sight with the smile of a personal and eternal kindness and amity, and is seen standing side by side, in union unspeakable yet without confusion, with Him who has suffered and redeemed, and with Him who laid the mighty plan of grace and willed its all-merciful success." This testimony of Prof. Moule to a work of grace after regeneration hinges on the condition of his getting a "conscious hold upon the living and most gracious personality of the Holy Spirit," a " hold " possible only to him who has already been born of the Spirit.3
1) Dr. John Owen, " On the Spirit," Chapter III.
2) H. C. G. Moule, principal of Ridley Hall and author of " Veni Creator"