The Spirit of God

Frederick William Grant

The word which stands for "spirit" in the Old Testament is (ruach), in the New Testament, (pneuma). They are words precisely of the same significance. Both are derived from words which mean "to breathe,"* and in their primary sense therefore signify "breath," or what is a kindred thought, air in motion, "wind." From this as the type of viewless activity, its meaning of "spirit" most evidently and easily derived. The comparison between the two is what the Lord makes in John iii. 8, where like same word pneuma is both "wind" and "spirit": "the wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh or wither it goeth, so is every one that is born of the Spirit." Here manifestly the thought is of invisible activity beyond control; the effects are manifest, the power which produces them unseen and uncontrollable. In the formation of language, where that which can be conceived of only gets its name from that which is recognized by the senses, what more simple than that pneuma, originally breath or wind, should give its name to the power that, omnipresent in its activity acts unseen and uncontrolled? Hence "God is Spirit,"† the third Person of the Trinity, whom Scripture represents as the immediate mover, both in creation and in new creation, is preeminently the "Spirit of God."

*The verb is not used in the Old Testament, except in the Hiphil a causative form; and in this form it signifies "to smell." How this is really the same as to "cause to breathe" is plain on a moment's consideration. Pneuma occurs seven times in the New Testament, in every place to represent the blowing of wind.

†In the "Personal Recollections" of Charlotte Elizabeth occurs a well known and touching illustration of the connection of thought. A poor dumb boy, in whom she was interested, and whom she had been seeking to impress with the fact of the being of God, told her that he had been looking everywhere for God, but could not find Him. "There was ‘God, NO'!" She took up a pair of bellows, and blew a puff at his hand, which was red with cold on a winter's day. He showed signs of displeasure, told her it made his hands cold, while she, looking at the pipe of the bellows, told him she could see nothing, "there was ‘wind, no'!" "He opened his eyes very wide, stared at me, and panted a deep crimson suffused his whole face, and a soul, a real soul, shone in his strangely altered countenance, while he triumphantly repeated. God like wind! God like wind!"

To all this, indeed, on behalf of materialism, Mr. Roberts has made sundry objections, the answer to which need not detain us long. He tells us: "A substantive derived from a verb draws its meaning from the act expressed by the verb. Ruach is ruach, because it is the thing ruached so to speak, and not because the act of ruaching is invisible." But that has to do with the primary meaning of words only, and not with the secondary, of which alone we are speaking. "Breath" is the thing breathed, no doubt, but if I speak of "a breath of air," I do not speak of anything breathed. I apply the word "breath" in a secondary sense, to something which in some way it resembles. This secondary sense has nothing to do with the derivation of the word at all, as a "breath of air" is not a thing breathed forth, but only compared to that which is. John iii. 8 shows us, for pneuma, the real ground of comparison between its primary and secondary meanings: an illustration which Mr. Roberts silently passes by, in order that he may be able to speak of this view of the matter as an "opinion having no deeper foundation than the ingenuity of those who have given birth to the speculation."

Meanwhile, he himself puts forth what is really that, that "the power which gives life was itself in the first instance spirited (breathed forth) from the Eternal Source of life and light." To this, moreover, we answer by bringing forward the passage which Mr. R. rightly foresees will be against him - " "God is a Spirit."* Who breathed forth, then, this Spirit which God is? Was God Himself an emanation from something else? Mr. R. anticipates this objection, and tries to provide for it by telling us that "spirit" "comes by association with subsequent manifestation, to stand in its New Testament use as the synonym of the Divine nature; but this by association merely, and not by philological derivation." But how, then, is he so sure that there is "philological derivation" in the former case? This is evidently a second conjecture, to uphold the previous one, and as baseless as the former. For, with so-called Christadelphianism, as is well known, the theory is, that while "spirit" is a thing "spirited forth" from God, out of this spirit all things were made. How strange and contradictory to take, then, what is, so to speak, the raw material of all creation, and to confound with that God's very nature - creation and Creator being so identified as one!

*John iv. 24.

Materialism has thus not shrunk from assailing, along with the Godhead of the Son, the Personality of the Holy Ghost. And this is not confined even to the followers of Dr. Thomas. The interpretation of "spirit" adopted by Ellis and Read, borrowed, it would seem, by or from the former, tends directly the same way. Miles Grant, as we have seen, makes it a mere influence. But Dr. Thomas it is who has formulated the doctrine, as before seen. According to him, the Spirit of God is electricity, or, combined with nitrogen and oxygen in the atmosphere, which Job calls the "breath of God." According to Mr. Roberts, his follower, it is proved by the shaking of the house on the day of Pentecost, and the energizing of Samson's muscles, when it came on him, to belong as much on the list of material forces as light, heat or electricity. The doctrine is developed in full in his fifth lecture that God is a material being, surrounded by a kind of electrical atmosphere, so dazzling and consuming in His immediate presence, as to be called "light unapproachable," but which, attenuated by degrees, is the material out of which He creates all things, and by which He becomes cognizant of everything, and executes His purpose in the whole domain of the universe. This is the ruach, the principle of life in the nostrils of all flesh, which the foolish animals "use all up" in the mere process of existence, but which wiser man can use to move tables, read unopened letters, and even (when in a high state of nervous susceptibility) to perceive distant facts and occurrences! "When concentrated under the Almighty's will," it "becomes holy spirit, as distinct from spirit in its free, spontaneous form;" in which way apostles received it, but "it is given to none in the present day." In "evolving a new man" in people, "the Spirit has no participation except in the shape of the written word. The present days are barren days, as regards the Spirit's direct operations"*

*Twelve Lectures, pp. 110-125.

All this is but the legitimate fruit of materialistic teaching. It is essential to its self-consistency that the Personality of the Spirit of God be denied. Once get rid of Him as a Person, put Him upon the list of material forces - let it be electricity or anything else you please - and plainly you have at once reduced the spirit of man also to something just as unintelligent, and as well suited to the purpose they desire to accomplish. The statement I have given from Mr. Roberts' book may not seem to need reply, nor anything but its simple utterance, to condemn it sufficiently. Nevertheless I shall answer it; for in these days of wide-spread infidelity, God alone knows in what unlooked-for places the answer may be needed. Nor does the gross folly which marks it all hinder its reception. Man has no wisdom apart from the word of truth, and, once astray from that, the apostolic declaration is fulfilled, "professing to be wise, they became fools." How like, too, to what is now occupying us, that which he goes on to say ! - "and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into AN IMAGE MADE LIKE TO CORRUPTIBLE MAN!" (Rom. i. 22. 23).

Scripture disowns this system in all its parts. In Scripture the Spirit of God is a Person, divine and intelligent in the things of God. Just as, "what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him, even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God"* (1 Cor. ii. 11).

*Mr. Roberts objects against this: - "There is a parallel: 1. Man, and the spirit of man; 2. God, and the Spirit of God. Now, does Mr. Grant mean to contend that the spirit of man is one person, knowing the things of man another person? Surely not. Yet this is what his view would require if he is right, in maintaining that the Spirit of God is one person, knowing the things of God, another person."

Mr. Grant's view requires nothing of the sort. The "things of man" are just human things, as "the things of God" are divine things. It is not a question of another person in either case. But if the Spirit of God knows divine things, then He is conscious and intelligent; and so is the spirit of man in human things.

And I know not what argues personality more than consciousness and intelligence. Does Mr. Roberts? Of course this infers the personality of the spirit of man, and this is obnoxious to him but the passage before us does plainly intimate that the essence of personality in man is in his spirit. This is a very important point, which will come up again in its own place.

This is as different from Mr. Grant's "influence" or Mr. Roberts' "medium," through which the Deity receives impressions (much as the human ear sound through the atmosphere), but itself as unconscious as the atmosphere - of which, indeed, according to Thomas, it forms part - as can well be conceived. "The Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God" (ver. 10). Not God searches by the Spirit, as Mr. R. would have it, but the Spirit itself searches and knows. Moreover, again, "He who searcheth the hearts" i. e., God, "knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit," which, living and active, "ITSELF maketh intercession for us according to God" (Rom. viii. 26, 27).

If this is not the announcement of an intelligent Person, words cannot convey the idea of one. Yet Mr. Roberts will have it that it is all what he is fond of calling "the inevitable fictions of human speech." Of the passages from Corinthians he says: "This describes the apostolic experience of the Spirit," which, "to THEIR SENSATIONS, as we may say, was separately from themselves an Enlightener, Penetrator, Comforter, Witness, and therefore described in language that reads as if these functions were personally separate from the Father"*

*Man Mortal, p. 29.

So then it does read as if the Spirit of God were a person! The truth is, after all, too strong for the theory. But then this is merely a description, according to the human sensation! Is it true, then, that to their human sensations the Spirit of God was not only separate from themselves, but from the Father also? How did the "sensation" differ from what it would have been had the Father spoken apart from this? Could they not help describing it by misleading words? Mr. Roberts himself can and does describe it differently. Why not the apostles? The words do read as if the Spirit of God were a Person, our adversaries themselves being judges; and they speak not merely of inspired knowledge, but of the competency of the Spirit to reveal. And then is further added (ver. 12), "Now we have received the Spirit" - this Spirit so competent in knowledge - "that we might know." Their knowledge is distinguished from the Spirit's knowledge; and the doctrine is complete that theirs proceeds from their reception of One, who had it in His own power to impart His to them.

The argument that the Spirit of God is in the nostrils, and so a mere principle of life in all living, because Job xxvii. 3, in the common version, speaks so, I can only say is worthy of men who, when they choose, can quote Greek and Hebrew abundantly, but who are pleased to ignore in this case the fact that one of the commonest renderings of ruach is breath; and that the expression refers to Gen. ii. 7, where the word for "breath of life" is a word which is never applied to the Spirit of God at all. And, moreover, so far is Scripture from asserting that the Spirit of God is in all men, that it speaks of Christians expressly as those "who have received the Spirit which is of God."

The proof is indeed abundant and decisive as to this, which is alone (spite of Mr. Roberts' protest) subversive of their whole theory. For it is no work of the Spirit that is in question, as he would make it, but the reception of the Spirit Himself. Nor was (as he affirms) the teaching of the Spirit ever called the Spirit. The Lord's words indeed were "spirit," but not the Spirit of God; and "the Spirit is truth" surely, characteristically, just as is the Lord Jesus (John. xiv. 6); but in neither case does that destroy personality. All the way through Scripture we find language which defies accommodation to this lowest depth of materialism. If I begin with Genesis (xli. 38)* I find Joseph spoken of as a "man in whom [distinctively] the Spirit of God is." In Jude 19, some, even of professing Christians are described as "sensual, having not the Spirit." So I find in Gal. iv. 6, that "because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father!" [Was this merely " truth" that God sent into their hearts? and were they sons before they had received it?] And again, "Ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you;" and then it is added, "Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His" (Rom. viii. 9). Solemn utterance, indeed, for men who have to confess that they have no "Holy Spirit": for only by the Holy Ghost given to us is "the love of God shed abroad in our hearts" (Rom. v. 5); and "the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit" (ch. xiv. 17). If that be withdrawn, there is no more "communion of the Holy Ghost" (2 Cor. xiii. 14); no more "sealing" to the day of redemption (Eph. iv. 30); no more "renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Titus iii. 5). Sad work indeed, if this be true! and barren days indeed! But what an account for men to give of themselves, that they have no communion, no renewing, no sealing, no peace, no joy, no love of God in their hearts! They have pronounced their condemnation with their own lips, when they say that the only Spirit of God they know is one subject to men's wills, and " used up " by animals "in the mere process of existence."

*Roberts allows this, and yet thinks it "looks as much like a manœuvre as possible," and spends a full page in proving (what no one will deny), that the ruach Eloah of Job, and the nishmath chayim of Genesis are doctrinally identical." How is it he does not see that this is the very thing which Mr. Grant (as he thinks, so dogmatically) asserts? The real question is, can the "breath of God in the nostrils," which Job speaks of, be the same as that Spirit of God, who (to quote the same book) made man (xxxiii. 4)? To assert this because it is the same word ruach in each case, is equivalent to asserting that in John iii. 8, because the same word pneuma is used for " wind" and "spirit," therefore to be born of the Spirit is to be born of the wind!

He goes on: "But Mr. Grant is mistaken if he supposes that this verse in Job is the only support to the doctrine that the Spirit of God is the means of universal life. The statements quoted four or five sentences back (Psa. xxxvi. 9; Acts xvii. 25; Job xii. 10) indirectly (and if so very indirectly) show the same thing. In addition, we have to consider passages as these: ‘Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?' (Psa. cxxxix. 7). What conclusion can we come to from this, but that the universal presence of God, who personally dwells in heaven, is the universal Spirit, invisible power or energy radiated from the Father, and therefore called Spirit, or that which is breathed? Again, ‘the Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life' (Job xxxiii. 7). Again, ‘Thou sendest forth Thy Spirit, they are created (Psa. civ. 30). Hence, ‘in Him (by the Spirit) we live, and move and have our being' (Acts xvii. 28). Hence, ‘if He gather to Himself His Spirit (ruach) and His breath (nishmath) ALL FLESH shall perish together, and man shall turn again to his dust, (Job xxxiv. 14)."

Here we have the strength of Mr. Roberts' doctrine. How plain it is also and that he goes to Scripture, as so many do, just to find support for it. What an inference, that if one cannot go from the Spirit, and then from the presence of God, that therefore "Spirit" and "presence" must be just the same thing! and, moreover, this must be an energy breathed from the Father. The trouble with Mr. Roberts is that he is so absolute a materialist, that with him even God Himself must be material, and there must either be a material presence or such. To others than himself it will appear that Mr. R. had better give us the grounds of such a conclusion from Scripture, rather than suppose them. Similarly we all believe that the Spirit of God has made us, and the breath of the Almighty given us life. Does that prove that the Spirit of God is only breath ? And if so, how?

Again, in what way does God send forth His Spirit when He creates, according to Mr. R.? To us it looks very much like the doctrine of a living, personal agent, in which we believe.

So as to Acts xvii. 28, the materialism is all his own.

In the last passage, allowing his reading of it (which some accept), God's Spirit need not, surely be impersonal, because the maintainer of life in all created existences, nor is it identified with the spirit of man.

This is, then, the total result of the appeal to Scripture as to this so weighty a point to be established, and in face of Scriptures, which (it is owned) do read as if the Spirit of God were a distinct person in the Godhead. With Mr. Roberts the Spirit is the material of creation; in Scripture the Creator, as indeed he owns: thoughts which are contradictory of each other, as long as Creator and creature are distinct in more than name.

Yet Mr. Roberts allows that this (impersonal!) Spirit "was a teacher, more particularly in the apostolic era, when it was bestowed on all who believed the word, enabling them to work miracles, speak with tongues, understand mysteries, according as the Spirit WILLED"! How strange an impersonality is this, creating, teaching, searching, willing, hearing, knowing, and yet not a person! Of course this language must be understood as mere, strangely contradictory, human speech. Scripture seems to say this. We must believe it to mean something that it never even seems to say!

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