As Christians we believe that God has revealed himself to us through many vehicles, but primarily through his Word. In chapter six of Knowing God Dr. Packer addresses the third person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit, who among his other functions, testifies to Jesus Christ, the eternal Son. If you are new to this study you can find all of the previous lessons using the Knowing God category link. There are also study materials for the book available at william.meisheid.com.
Having introduced us to the incarnate Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity in last chapter, Dr. Packer now looks to the Holy Spirit (Holy Ghost in older translations), the third person of the Godhead. As an aside before we get into this weeks challenging study, I would like to say that I prefer using Holy Spirit to Holy Ghost. Ghosts generally are looked at as the spirit of a deceased person or other entity, which of course could never be applied to the third person of the Godhead. Spirit does not carry that baggage. Having said that, let’s get into our study.
Packer starts out by quoting the Lesser Doxology:
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.
This prayer of praise, which has been used within various Christian liturgies for almost two millennia, makes a definitive statement about how the Christian church views the Godhead, not as three Gods, but as one God expressed as three persons; as St. Patrick used to say, as one clover with three leaves. Patrick used the Shamrock as a way to explain this mystery to the people of Ireland. For many people the Trinity is a complicated doctrine they could do without, but rather than a stumbling block, it is central to understanding the nature of our God and our salvation.
Over the history of the Christian Church, believers have generally fallen into the extremes of elevating too highly or reducing too much the importance of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Nicene Creed, in its formulation on the third person of the Trinity expresses a balanced view.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
While also Lord, the Spirit proceeds from and is tasked by the Father and Son. In his work, He witnesses not to himself, but to those who sent him, thus the title of this chapter: He Shall Testify.
Dr. Packer wonders aloud why today we don’t recite the Athenasian Creed in public worship as we did in the past. Rather than link to it, I believe it important to include the whole creed in this post so that the rest of our discussion can be informed by it.
The Creed of Saint Athanasius
Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith. Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.
And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.
For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal. As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated, but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty.
So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords, but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be both God and Lord, So are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion, to say, There be three Gods, or three Lords.
The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son, neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other; none is greater, or less than another; But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal.
So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved is must think thus of the Trinity.
Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess, that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and Man of the Substance of his Mother, born in the world; Perfect God and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead; and inferior to the Father, as touching his Manhood; Who, although he be God and Man, yet he is not two, but one Christ; One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh but by taking of the Manhood into God; One altogether; not by confusion of Substance, but by unity of Person.
For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ; Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead.
He ascended into heaven, he sitteth at the right hand of the Father, God Almighty, from whence he will come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men will rise again with their bodies and shall give account for their
own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.
This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.
Central to Packer’s argument in this chapter is John’s Gospel. John presents the Spirit as the Holy Spirit (John 14:17, 26) and it is in John (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7) that Jesus calls the Holy Spirit a comforter, a divine personage who will act, abide, remind, teach, and testify.
The work of the Holy Spirit is so important that Packer bluntly says:
Why, were it not for the work of the Holy Spirit there would be no gospel, no faith, no church, no Christianity in the world at all. In the first place, without the Holy Spirit there would be no gospel and no New Testament.
Over the history of the church and even today, despite the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements, the Holy Spirit, though divine and a member of the Holy Trinity, is largely ignored. Despite that, the abiding ministry of the Holy Spirit within the church is to testify to, for, and about Christ, the Son of God, by:
illuminating: opening blinded eyes, restoring spiritual vision, enabling sinners to see that the gospel is indeed God’s truth, and Scripture is indeed God’s Word, and Christ is indeed God’s Son.
Often, apologetics is presented as a means to rationally state the gospel in a way that breaks down all barriers to belief. It is said to be a means of proving the truth of Christianity by logical argument. Packer counters with:
nobody can prove the truth of Christianity except the Holy Spirit, by his own almighty work of renewing the blinded heart. It is the sovereign prerogative of Christ’s Spirit to convince men’s consciences of the truth of Christ’s gospel; and Christ’s human witnesses must learn to ground their hopes of success not on clever presentation of the truth by man, but on powerful demonstrations of the truth by the Spirit.
How then should we respond to the Holy Spirit? One way, Packer argues, is to acknowledge, apply, and authenticate our witness with the Holy Scriptures, which are the work of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus said, “he shall testify” and as the angel speaking to John said seven times (the number of perfection) said
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
The real question then is, are we listening?