The Holy Spirit has been called the “misunderstood God,” “ignored God,” “mysterious God,” and the “forgotten God.” The doctrine of the Holy Spirit and his work have been debated between Christians for centuries. The cessationist/continuationist debate over the gifts of the Holy Spirit are currently in the spotlight due to John MacArthur’s recent conference and book. Christians line up on differing sides regarding what the Spirit does. However, there is no question over who the Spirit is among evangelical Christians. The Holy Spirit is an uncreated person of the Trinity. Denying this is denying the faith. So, while we may not all agree on exactly how the Holy Spirit works in regeneration, sanctification, and in the gifts that he gives, we can all gladly affirm together that the Holy Spirit is God.
Puritan John Howe (1630-1705) had a different battle to fight. While we are fighting the fight of whether certain spiritual gifts have continued past the age of the Apostles (i.e. healing, tongues, prophecy), Howe was debating those who denied the Holy Spirit’s personhood. They argued that the Holy Spirit was a created power rather than an uncreated Person. If we cannot get past this point, we have no ground to argue any further about cessationism or continuationism. We do not have the luxury of debating what the Spirit does if we cannot hold to the biblical presentation of who the Spirit is.
Howe has given us a flurry of logic to prove this biblical reality (that the Holy Spirit is God) that is vital to the Christian faith and to our daily lives. Let’s learn from a great Puritan mind today. Speaking on the Holy Spirit, Howe wrote:
If he be then a created power, the created power of God, or the power of God, but created, then it seems God did, without power, create this power, and was without power till he had created it; so that he did the act of creation (which is an act of omnipotency) when he was impotent. It supposes, first, an impotent God, and then supposeth him, when he was impotent, to create his own power; that is, when he was without all power he did that act which requires an infiniteness of power, to wit, to create. I know nothing that carries clearer evidence with it, than this doth, that the Holy Ghost cannot be that created power which these persons pretend to; or cannot be divine power distinct from God, from the very essence of God. Every thing of God is God, and cannot be otherwise.
With the release of John MacArthur’s book coming swiftly, much-needed debate will ensue. May we debate and discuss these issues of spiritual gifts with this great biblical truth hanging over us as a banner; that the Holy Spirit is an uncreated Person, a Person of the Trinity, due our adoration and worship.
Side Note: A Word from John Owen (1616-1683)
By way of both reminder and pointer, here is a list given by Puritan John Owen to prove the divinity and distinct personality of the Holy Spirit:
- The Spirit shares the same rank and order as Father and Son (Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 12:3-6).
- He has “names proper to a divine person only” (Acts 5:3-4, 9).
- “He hath personal properties”: a will and understanding (1 Cor. 12:11; 2:10).
- “He is the voluntary author of divine operations,” including creation (Gen. 1:2), speaking through the prophets (2 Peter 1:21), and brings life, sanctifies, comforts, and instructs.
- “The same regard is had to him in faith, worship, and obedience, as unto the other persons of the Father and Son” (Matt. 12:31-32; Acts 5:3-4, 9; 13:2, 4).
Joel Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books), 2012, pp. 421-422.